UK fridge fiasco to be probed as new equipment trials begin

Britain’s prime minister, Tony Blair, this week ordered an investigation into what is being described as a multi-million pound fiasco caused by ministers failing to prepare the country to comply with new EC regulations on the disposal of domestic fridges.

From 1 January 2002, under EC regulation No 2037/2000 on substances that deplete the ozone layer, the requirement to remove CFCs was extended to include CFCs in the insulating foam of all redundant refrigeration equipment, as well as liquid CFCs. It emerged last November that the specialist processing plant necessary to handle the recycling of the foam material had not been established in the UK and that local authorities would have to store unwanted fridges until appropriate facilities were available. Some may even have to be exported for disposal, it was revealed in a leaked memo from the Scottish Executive in October last year (see related story).

Not only are local authorities facing the accumulation of an estimated 6,500 unwanted fridges each week, but the additional financial burden of new waste management requirements following the reclassification of fridges, along with all electrical equipment, as “hazardous waste”. In all, this has been estimated to total between £75 million to £100 million.

Processing capacity is now available at three high temperature incinerators licensed for handling hazardous waste, which have been modified to take the new feedstock. This includes 5,000 units/week capacity at Cleanaway’s Ellesmere Port plant, and 3,000 units/week at the Shanks Group’s Fawley and Pontypool plants – but the latter plant will close at the end of March as previously announced.

A number of companies are reported to be interested in establishing purpose built facilities (see related story), but the first to be trailed in the UK is expected to be a German-designed mobile plant from SEG, which is due to be demonstrated in mid February by Evans Logistics. Company spokesman, John Bungay told edie that his company has submitted applications for waste management licences to operate plants in Northamptonshire and South Wales, initially on stand-alone industrial sites.

The mobility option does however enable transfer to other sites, with appropriate supply levels of around 4-5,000 unit/week. He estimated that around 10 facilities would be needed across the UK to handle the 2.5 million fridges disposed of annually, and that the recycling requirement would probably be required for at least the next eight years.

In December, DEFRA provided £6 million to local authorities to cover extra costs until the end of March, and is reported to be urgently considering additional funds.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie