As noted earlier, many refrigerant emissions arise from a lack of awareness. How many of us were aware of the link between refrigerants and climate damage, or that it is such a significant issue worldwide? Who knows what is illegal, what is best practice, what qualifications service people need, or how to dispose of equipment?
Lack of awareness is probably also the main reason why nobody seems to have applied community action to the problem. Therefore we should tackle awareness first, but to be more helpful at the same time we should give information that we think is useful, reliable and current, and gather feedback on it. From the feedback, it will be clearer what practical help is needed.
First, understand your priorities. Below is a graphic of the relative climate impact of the various applications of refrigerant in the UK. The size of pie slices tell us the nation’s priorities for managing these applications.
Each nation, city, town, village and home will have different priorities to those implied by the above chart. Urban areas have a mix of large buildings (stationary aircon), food outlets (commercial refrigeration) and industry, much like the chart. Rural areas on the other hand may only be concerned with cars and trucks (mobile aircon, transport refrigeration). Similarly, local and personal priorities can be shaped by a particular industry, business or job, or a need (metered dose inhaler).
“Domestic refrigeration” is not labelled in the UK 2017 chart, yet we have about 38 million fridges and freezers in 27 million households. Where are they? Why are they not a priority?
In fact domestic refrigeration is at the top of the chart in a small unlabelled pie slice. It is small for two reasons. Domestic appliances obviously need less refrigerant than larger commercial and industrial ones. More significantly, in the mid 1990s the EU specified much less potent chemicals for domestic refrigeration.
Investigate your refrigerants
Individual households may use a variety of refrigerants. Car aircon is a usual item. Domestic building aircon is relatively uncommon in the UK but heat pumps are growing in popularity (they are themselves a climate solution: #42 Heat Pumps). Plenty of old fridges and freezers are still around, as are old aerosol cans forgotten in sheds and cupboards. In a show of hands at our recent U3A group, a third of those present knew of medical inhalers in the family.
Example: old refrigerator
I have an ancient fridge, now used as a cupboard and never switched on, but it still holds refrigerant. I discovered that its backplate – a small plate with the serial number – gives more information.
The lower left of this backplate tells me the fridge contains 85 grams of refrigerant R12. If you can reach a backplate, you should be able to find similar information on any cold appliance, air conditioner, heat pump, etc., or in a few cases find it on paper or online.
Codes like R12 refer to a US standard adopted internationally. You can look them up in the “ASHRAE Number” column of Wikipedia’s list of refrigerants. Once found, read across to the refrigerant’s potency in the “net GWP 100-yr” column; GWP means “global warming potential” and is measured relative to CO2 = 1.
Thus I found that R12 is “dichlorodifluoromethane”, a “CFC” gas, 10200 times more potent than CO2. It is an ozone and climate destroyer! Releasing those 85 grams of gas would be as bad for the climate as driving my car another 6300 km. I am not worried as long as the fridge stays where it is, but when the time comes to dispose of it I am both morally and legally obliged to do so properly.
How to service and dispose of equipment with refrigerant
The short answer is “Don’t even try. Get someone competent to do it”. Untrained handling is a major cause of gas emissions.
An easy answer, but hard in reality. Public awareness of refrigerant issues is very low. Information is hard to find and hard to assess for obsolescence or trustworthiness. Competence costs money, meaning that those who struggle financially are forced towards available but risky or illegal solutions like piercing pipes, dumping and “cowboy” servicing. Enforcement varies from low to non-existent. There has been just one known prosecution in the UK for the release of an F-gas, after the offending company had reported itself!
Detailed answers vary with the type of device:
- Mobile air conditioning
- Stationary air conditioning
- Commercial refrigeration
- Industrial refrigeration
- Metered dose inhalers
- Other aerosols
- Transport refrigeration
- Foam blowing agents
- Fire Protection
- Domestic refrigeration
- Refrigerant containers
- F-gas handling
This list should eventually link to advice on each item. For any that are available, please comment on what would make them more useful.