Up until then, service technicians simply blew a charge of refrigerant to the atmosphere if refrigerant needed to be removed from a system. The EPA banned that and imposed fines when someone was caught doing that. It was pretty obvious from Day 1 that fines would not be levied to any great extent, mainly because the EPA wanted to rely on whistle-blowers to turn in offenders - and very few persons wanted that role.
What drove greater interest in recovery were the rising costs of refrigerants and the phaseout of first CFCs and then HCFCs. It became worthwhile for contractors to hold onto that stuff as long as possible, especially with so much equipment in the aftermarket running on CFC and HCFC refrigerants.
EARLY DAYSIn those early days of recovery, it was interesting to see what constituted a recovery machine. First of all, there were some guys who claimed they could build one in their backyards - and, in fact,The NEWSonce did a story on one such guy.
Then there were those with what I might call the “minimalist” approach. Some companies came up with small units costing only a few hundred dollars. One was never sure if they could actually recover any refrigerant; or if they could, how long it would take to do so. I think those units existed because they met the EPA requirement that a contractor own a “recovery” unit and, well, they owned one.
Then there were the manufacturers who came over from the automotive industry. The auto industry actually was ahead of us stationary folks in being mandated to recover refrigerant, so that sector came up with a recovery unit for auto shops to pull CFC-12 from car air conditioners. Some of those units came over to the stationary sector, although how they might work with refrigerants beyond R-12 or how they might work in stationary was questionable.
But among all that were companies that ended up being mainstays in HVACR with recovery equipment that proved to be reliable, did what they were supposed to do, and were backed fully by the manufacturers.
THEY ALL CAMEI can recallThe NEWSsponsoring a seminar/mini-trade show back in the late 1980s at a hotel in Dallas for recovery/recycling technology. The seminars focused on the need for recovering in light of EPA regulations and the mini-trade expo had manufacturers of such products showing their latest. I can vividly recall there being 52 companies with such equipment. Can you image that? At one time there were more than 50 companies making recovery machines. True, more than a few really hadn’t a clue what they were doing in those days. For example, some of the folks at that expo were over from the automotive sector with bulky units that might work well in a repair shop but would never have gotten up to a roof for PTAC work.
I’ve always remembered that number of 52 because the current EPA list of reclamation (a different animal than recovery/recycling) companies has about that many names.
A FEW REMAINThese days maybe a dozen or so recovery companies remain. The deadwood have faded into history. There have been some mergers and acquisitions. And along the way, new generations of equipment have come to the market designed to allow technicians to do better work.
And, frankly, the laws are still in place requiring no venting. And while enforcement doesn’t seem to have gotten any more intense than it was more than 20 years ago, the costs of the virgin versions of those refrigerants that need to be recovered have certainly risen.
The recovery aspect of the HVACR industry remains more vital and valuable than ever before.