Environcom and Aqua Force Recycling both run upgraded, advanced fridge recycling facilities. Their upgrades followed changes to rules, which came into effect from February 2013, which deemed pentane fridges as hazardous waste.
The most valuable part of a fridge for metal recovery is its compressor. According to guidance, this must be removed using ‘appropriate equipment and by suitably trained staff at a permitted facility’. A fridge also needs to be handled and stored ‘appropriately’ to ensure that the cooling circuit or compressor remains intact.
But according to Sean Feeney, chief executive at Environcom, large numbers of fridges are not being dismantled according to EA guidance by waste sites. He said that his company is offered fridges once a week with compressors that have already been removed.
Sean says that the practice is having a huge impact on legitimate businesses because there is not enough volume to keep firms at capacity. Indeed, the effect is such that Envirocom is making a loss.
Tony Naik, sales director at Aqua Force, reports similar experiences, saying that the number of requests to process partially recycled fridges had grown in number over the past 18 months.The EA says that it has focused on efforts to enforce the regulations and is encouraging firms to report suspect practice.
According to the EA, waste sites have a duty of care to ensure fridge recycling is managed appropriately. To help ensure that compliance is maintained, the EA is inspecting sites which manage waste metals and taking action against those who do not comply with the law.Inspectors are instructed to be vigilant for signs of poor or illegal management and treatment of waste fridges, including the compressor components.
Voice of WEEE recyclers
In response, Feeney has set up an informal organisation to act as the voice of WEEE recyclers in the UK. The group is asking that Defra clarifies what ‘appropriate handling’ of end-of-life fridges actually means, and to classify compressors as hazardous materials unless they are drained under a vacuum.
Feeney said that the British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA), of which many UK scrap yard firms are members, could take a more active role.
BMRA director general Ian Hetherington responded by saying that that the organisation did not encourage its members to process fridges which had been dismantled in breach of their permit. He also said that while the BMRA continued to take issue with the way the EA had reclassified materials recovered from fridges as hazardous, the agency’s guidance must be followed.
Size of the problem?
Environcom’s Sean Feeney estimates that 75,000 tonnes of fridges are processed outside EA rules. This figure is the difference between the 190,000 tonnes of fridges brought to the UK market in 2013 and the 114,000 taken on by Approved Authorised Treatment Facilities (AATFs), according to EA data.
However, the figure cannot be read as law. First, one tonne of fridges brought to market do not necessarily create one tonne of end-of-life fridges. According to the Association of Manufacturers of Domestic Appliances, householders often keep a fridge even if they buy a new one.
The 114,000 figure also does not include fridges recycled by legitimate operators that are not considered AATFs. This is because they have not asked for permission to issue WEEE evidence under the producer responsibility regime.