New hope for old refrigerators

Global metals recycler SimsMetal has announced that it will shortly open the first refrigerator recycling plant in Britain to meet the EU’s Ozone Depleting Substances regulations on the reduction of CFCs, and the UK government has announced an extra £6 million to help with storage of old refrigerators around the country until March next year.

Following the revelation from a leaked Scottish Executive memo that the UK will have to export waste refrigerators from this coming January due to the country’s inability to deal with ozone depleting substances (ODS) (see related story), the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has announced – in addition to the new money – a package of new measures to deal with the fridge problem. The measures include government guidance of the storage of waste fridges, draft standards for industry to deal with waste fridges, and information to consumers on how to dispose of old fridges safely.

As part of this, SimsMetal UK, has decided to open its new plant after talks with the government. SimsMetal UK is the European subsidiary of SimsMetal Ltd, a leading global ferrous and non-ferrous metals recycler, with operations in Australia, USA, Canada, New Zealand, China and South East Asia.

The company is also offering fridge storage as an interim measure, and has announced an agreement with SERCo Secure Storage, a division of SERCo Operations, for the provision of storage facilities throughout the UK, including the environmentally preferred option of covered, secure storage. This storage network will complement SimsMetal’s own facilities. If necessary, the company says the combined facilities could store all of the UK’s old fridges.

The company’s fridge recycling plants (FRPs) will incorporate liquid refrigerant removal in-line. These specialist plants will be installed during 2002, but realistically the company says they will not be in place until June at the earliest.

However, once the FRPs are operating at full capacity, the combination of storage, logistics and processing infrastructure should result in a total maximum cost of between £16 and £22 per unit, says SimsMetal. In the short to medium term the costs will be higher – probably until 2003 in order to remove backlogs – with maximum costs per unit typically ranging from £19 to £25 per unit.

EU member states have committed to remove ozone-depleting gases from fridges and freezers before recycling them from 1 January, 2002. From this date onwards, fridges will need to have their insulating foam removed before they can be recycled or scrapped, to prevent the release of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).

Tom Bird, managing director of SimsMetal UK, said the company would be opening one big plant imminently, but would not give details of its cost or location. DEFRA has also indicated that two other metals recycling companies are interested in opening similar plants in the UK.

“The regulation will be an important step in reducing releases of ozone-damaging chemicals from waste fridges and freezers,” said Environment Minister Michael Meacher. “There is no need for householders to worry about disposing of their old fridge. If a retailer cannot be found who will take an old fridge away, local authorities will accept the fridge at the civic amenity site, free of charge.”

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