Global ban for disposable refrigerant canisters?

As part of a new report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) on the implications of illegal CFC production and use, they have called for a global ban on disposable, non-refillable refrigerant cylinders to tackle the problem with illegal refrigerants.

disposa001The EIA has called for a global ban on disposable refrigerant canisters.

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has released their briefing to the 30th Meeting of the Parties (MOP) to the Montreal Protocol entitled Tip of The iceberg: implications of illegal CFC production and Use

According to the report, recent examples of illegal trade in HFCs in Europe as well as continued ozone-depleting substance (ODS) illegal trade worldwide strengthens the call for a global ban on the use of disposable cylinders. The vast majority of known ODS smuggling cases are facilitated by the use of disposable cylinders (sometimes referred to a ‘non-refillable containers’), as their disposable nature means they can be freely traded.

Disposable cylinders are specifically-manufactured ‘one way’ containers charged with refrigerant, sold, used for servicing or commissioning equipment and then discarded. Aside from the additional waste management issues this brings, the cylinders result in a residual quantity of refrigerant, or ‘heel’, being emitted to the atmosphere as they must be cut or punctured before entering the waste stream. If the cylinders do not enter the formal waste stream the heel remains until the container degrades and is ultimately released. According to the 2010 RTOC assessment the vapour heel represents about 3% of refrigerant charge, and the liquid heel represents between 5 and 8%.

EIA is not aware of any global estimates of disposable refrigerant cylinders in use. The EU banned disposable refrigerant cylinders in the EU and on EU flagged vessels in 2007. Similar bans are also in place in Canada, India and Australia. However, disposable refrigerant cylinders are still in wide use elsewhere in the world and the European market has recently been flooded with illegal HFCs in disposable cylinders.

A local problem

A report by a major refrigerant distributor, A-Gas, estimates that 225 000 disposable cylinders are sold in South Africa every year, of which 70% are thought to be filled with R22. Assuming a residue of 400g (2.94%) per cylinder, this equates to an estimated 63t of emissions into the environment each year (114 000 tCO2e/yr). In some instances, the heel could be as high as 5% of the contents, which is 680g per cylinder, which equates to 107mt of ODS emitted into the atmosphere each year.

Moreover, it has been reported that despite clear guidelines on packaging and disposable cylinders, end users are circumventing the one-way valve and refilling them, which is not only illegal, but extremely dangerous. In many instances, this involves bypassing an integral safety device built into the disposable cylinder itself to prevent overpressure. This can result in explosions if the safe operating conditions are exceeded.

Will it be banned in SA?

Currently, the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and other HVAC&R industry stakeholders are considering a possible ban on disposable refrigerant canisters as part of the amendment to the ODS regulations. But a socio-economic impact study needs to be done first.

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