Old fridges are seriously uncool

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Karen Laird, editor Plastics News Europe

Like most of you out there, I receive a truly staggering number of emails in my inbox every day. Some interesting, some even relevant and addressed to me. As for the others, it’s a mystery to me how they got there.

Today’s catch, for example, included instructions on how to grill pineapple (“A dash of hot sauce keeps these caramelized pieces of fruit from getting too sweet”), an article about appetite genes (“Why some of us are born to eat too much”) and a message from someone wanting to let me know that if i needed a loan for a business investment, i should contact him immediately.

Sandwiched in between everything else was a serious looking message from something called the “RAL-Quality Assurance Association for the Demanufacture of Refrigeration Equipment”.

Despite the somewhat unwieldy, not to say off-putting name, I read the article with growing interest. And decided that it was newsworthy enough to pass on.

Because, as the association pointed out: “While international climate policy-makers debate the implications of the recent US pull-out from the Paris climate accord, other key issues to minimising carbon emissions are not getting the attention they deserve.”

Such as old fridges.

While the production of chlorinated fluorocarbons (CFCs) and their use (for example in refrigeration equipment) were banned over 30 years ago, a huge number of older pre-ban appliances – around 25 million - are still in use in European households. If properly ‘demanufactured’ – which involves removing the environmentally toxic substances they contain in a systematic and transparent manner that meets stringent environmental quality standards – these CFCs will do no harm. Specialist treatment operators not only remove all the refrigerants and blowing agents from the waste appliances, they also recover in pure form the other materials used in the production of the appliances, such as steel, copper, aluminium and plastics.

However: “The CFCs in a single untreated fridge have a global warning potential of a staggering 2.8 tonnes of CO2, equivalent to the carbon emissions from a medium sized car driving 17,000 kilometres,” writes the association.

“Failure to recover the refrigerants and blowing agents in these waste refrigeration appliances would result in their release into the environment, which would be equivalent to emitting more than 60 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the Earth’s atmosphere.”

In an effort to create more awareness about the urgency of the problem, the association has now introduced a new tool, called the RAL-CO2OL-PRINT, designed to quantify the carbon emissions actually saved by the daily operation of a specific treatment facility.  Once quantified, all the data is incorporated into an overall carbon emissions balance sheet that is made available to the demanufacturing facility in the form of a certificate issued monthly or every three or six months.

The idea is that by creating more awareness among stakeholders, the importance of demanufacturing of old fridges will start to be better understood. “Ticking time bombs”, the Association called them.

We should all get to work - now - to make sure they don’t go off.


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