Inadequate fridge recycling “a threat”
The failure of Finland, Germany, Greece and Sweden to correctly treat waste fridges and freezers is a threat to European climate protection goals, a new report claims.
About 19 million cooling and freezing appliances are said to be discarded every year in Europe. Nearly half of these appliances are said to still contain ozone depleting and global warming refrigerants and propellants like CFCs.
The report by three European NGOs – German environmental group DUH, the environmental standards organisation ECOS, and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) – estimates that these appliances have a GWP of up to 26 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent.
“Even if a refrigerator is returned to an official collection point, you cannot be sure that it is treated correctly in all EU countries,” said DUH executive director Jürgen Resch. “Particularly in Germany, Greece, Finland and Sweden, we have evidence that minimum quality standards are not met. These governments must act now to stop further unnecessary damage to our planet.”
The environmental groups call on EU member states to harmonise the treatment of fridges and freezers in their legislation to the highest standards and make the requirements of EN 50625-2-3 and technical specification TS 50625-3-4 mandatory in national waste legislation. These standards require waste management companies to provide a detailed material flow balance and to prove that they meet the minimum recovery targets of 90% of contained CFCs.
Such legal obligation are said to be already set by Austria, France, Ireland and the Netherlands, which have made the EN standards’ requirements mandatory.
“By referencing high treatment standards for the recycling of cooling and freezing appliances in legislation and safeguarding their compliance with reliable audits, large amounts of CO2 emissions could be saved in a simple way and without expensive funding programmes,” said Stéphane Arditi, policy manager at EEB.
Mathilde Crêpy, programme manager at ECOS added: “Although standards are often developed by industry alone, these treatment standards were successfully drafted in close cooperation with ECOS and DUH. We now urge legislators to use these standards to set ambitious legally-binding requirements for handling cooling and freezing appliances and help reach EU climate objectives.”
Treatment plants in Greece are said to receive waste refrigerators and freezers while not meeting audits based on the standards – a clear sign that less than the necessary 90% of refrigerants and propellants are recovered, say the environmental groups.
German manufacturers are said to be sending waste fridges and freezers to disposal companies with no evidence that the operators are compliant with the EN standards. The NGOs maintain that in several cases, operators do not recover sufficient quantities of CFCs from the insulation or simply claim water to be recovered CFCs. They say that the German government is planning to stipulate elements of the EN standards in a “weak administrative regulation, which will take five years to be effective and allows for exemptions at any time”.
In Sweden, waste operators are accused of illegally releasing volatile hydrocarbons into the atmosphere – a contravention of the WEEE regulations the NGOs say can lead to significant emissions of CFCs.
“We also have evidence that several Finnish treatment plants process CFAs [cooling and freezing appliances] in open shredders. We informed the authorities about this breach of European law, but for the time being these unacceptable treatment practices continue”, adds Sommer.
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