Since the beginning of the year fridges and freezers made before 1996, when a ban on CFCs and HCFCs was enacted, have been required to have these substances removed from their refrigerant circuits and insulating foam before disposal. A lack of facilities for disposal has led to massive stockpiles of old fridges and freezers awaiting stripping.

The EA is to licence and regulate the plants that will process the ODS in England and Wales, including mobile facilities. The draft standards outline how ODS must be removed, using appropriate equipment and sound environmental practices.

The draft guidance warns that the requirements involve using techniques that would-be ODS removal firms might not have expected:

  • ODS will have to be removed prior to storing the appliance;
  • extraction of both oil and refrigerant will have to take place in the same procedure; and
  • appliances will have to be pre-heated prior to de-gassing.

Best practice would also involve de-gassing taking place in a controlled environment where stray releases could be recovered, the EA notes, but it has taken what it calls a ‘pragmatic decision’ in the interim to allow de-gassing in the open.

The guidance note says: “Although de-gassing outside of a controlled environment introduces an additional uncertainty regarding overall ODS recovery efficiency from cradle to grave, this is currently considered to be acceptable given the existing unquantified loss of ODS from handling and transport operations.”

The report also identifies areas of uncertainty that the EA wants to examine in more detail. These are:

  • the degree to which quantitative performance requirements will be applied to the de-gassing process, which will significantly affect the number of decentralised operations that can function; and
  • the assessment of performance standards for semi-automated or manual processing, and cutting for transportation and storage.

Environment Agency environment protection manager Alun James said: “The draft standards clarify the environmental safeguards that must apply to processing of ODS from fridges and freezers. Following a short public consultation we will publish firm standards and operators who can meet the requirements can then be licensed to deal with the backlog of old fridges.”

To date, there are no specialised facilities in the UK for removing ODS from fridges and freezers, though two incinerators have been disposing of a limited number. There are plans for fixed plants to begin operating this summer, and mobile plants are due to be in use before then.

The EA stresses that fridges and freezers stored according to their guidelines while awaiting processing pose no real risk to the environment.

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