In one of the most recent developments, a report published in the German business magazine Capital claimed that waste refrigeration equipment containing CFCs is not only being illegally exported to countries outside the European Union, it is also being disposed of in Germany in car shredders and compactors.
According to the Quality Assurance Association for the Demanufacture of Refrigeration Equipment (RAL) in Luxembourg, these developments demonstrate “scandalous inadequacies in the German fridge recycling industry.”
“The revelations are more than reason enough to trigger serious investigation by the relevant authorities into the fate of end-of-life refrigeration appliances,” said Christoph Becker, RAL secretary. “In view of the massive relevance of CFCs to climate change, existing weaknesses in the monitoring of waste treatment processes must be eliminated as soon as possible.”
COMPACTINGAccording to RAL, “CFC-containing refrigeration appliances were discovered in two car shredder plants. Evidence presented in the magazine indicated that these were not isolated cases and that shredding is being used as a disposal channel for waste refrigeration equipment in Germany.”
In its description of a scrap-handling company in Germany’s Ruhr region, Capital said the “disposal channel” is an “integral part” of waste management practice in Germany.
According to RAL, recycling in Germany “is already suffering from the fact that those waste appliances that do find their way to dedicated recycling plants are not always being treated using the best available technology. It is hard to conceive just how badly climate protection targets are being damaged when the unknown and unreported emissions from CFC losses in car shredders and the careless handling of appliances in import countries are added to this figure.”
The experts at the RAL said they believed that the most effective means of combating these illegal practices is “through more frequent and thorough monitoring of waste disposal channels by the relevant authorities and official bodies.”
Said Becker, “This would provide a rapid and effective solution at least to the problem of disposal in car shredders. But, of course, self-monitoring by the car shredder operators would also help to bring about a rapid improvement in the situation. Both of the companies mentioned in the Capital report admitted that refrigeration appliances are not part of the regular waste intake into their shredder units. That this continues to be the case in the future depends above all on the shredder operators themselves. Keeping refrigeration appliances out of the shredder simply requires efficient monitoring of the incoming waste streams.”
EXPORT QUESTIONSThe article in Capital also uncovered evidence of the illegal export of decommissioned refrigerators and freezers containing CFCs, said Becker. The RAL believes that the problem of illegal exports, though more difficult, can also be resolved. “Clearly the number of border controls needs to be increased, with most of these inspections carried out on the external borders of the European Union,” Becker said. “The fact that most illegal exports appear to be channelled through the major European ports should help to optimize the efficiency of these border controls.” It was noted that the issue is receiving greater attention within the review and update procedures for European Regulation 2037/2000 on ozone-depleting substances.
RECYCLINGRAL is urging improvements in recycling efforts both in terms of refrigerants and decommissioned equipment that was using those refrigerants. It said, “There is the urgent need to make the environmentally safe treatment of waste refrigeration equipment a key item on the agenda of German environmental agencies. The No. 1 priority is still to optimize the technology and operation of existing specialist recycling plants so that the greatest possible quantities of CFCs are recovered and then safely destroyed.
“However, in the light of the information that has now been published, this alone will not be enough. It is essential that the greatest possible number of waste refrigerator and freezer appliances are sent to dedicated fridge recycling plants for treatment.”
Part of that process, the organization noted, is “closure of those channels through which end-of-life refrigeration appliances are ‘lost’ on their way from domestic households to the recycling plant,” a way of saying contractors and others need to stop venting or illegally exporting refrigerants as well as ceasing to simply dump equipment.
“Much would be achieved by drying up the sources that feed the illegal shredding and export streams. Nevertheless, additional inspections and controls of car shredding facilities and at ports of export are still absolutely essential. Given the massive implications that CFC emissions have for Germany’s climate change targets, the time has certainly come for the German government and its agencies to take serious remedial action.”