Business report exposes German fridge recycling failures

Posted: 29 May 2008

A report published in the German business magazine Capital has exposed scandalous inadequacies in the German fridge recycling industry. It says that waste refrigeration equipment containing CFCs is not only being illegally exported to countries outside the EU, it is also being disposed of in Germany in car shredders. Thomas Becker reports.

The RAL Quality Assurance Association believes that the revelations published in Capital should trigger serious investigation by the relevant authorities into the fate of end-of-life refrigeration appliances. In view of the massive relevance of CFCs to climate change, existing weaknesses in the monitoring of waste treatment processes must be eliminated as soon as possible, it says.

Abandoned refrigerators, Afghanistan
Abandoned refrigerators, Afghanistan
Abandoned refrigerators, Afghanistan. Dangers of CFC gases may be less understood in poor countries.
While discussions continue about quality requirements that should be met by existing fridge recycling plants in Germany and how they will be tested, the report has opened up another highly controversial area.

According to Capital, CFC-containing refrigeration appliances were discovered in two car shredder plants. Evidence indicates that these are not isolated cases and that shredding is being used as a disposal channel for waste refrigeration equipment in Germany.

The article also uncovered evidence of the illegal export of waste fridges and freezers containing CFCs. In its description of a scrap handling company in Germany's Ruhr region, Capital makes clear that this 'disposal channel' is obviously an 'integral part' of waste management practice in Germany.

Targets damaged

According to the RAL Quality Assurance Association, fridge recycling in Germany is already suffering from the fact that appliances that do find their way to dedicated fridge recycling plants are not always being treated using the best available technology. As a result of this alone, more than 3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide are being released each year.

RAL says: "It is hard to conceive just how badly climate protection targets are being damaged when the unknown and unreported emissions from CFC losses in car shredders and the careless handling of appliances in import countries are added to this figure."

A 'fridgehenge' in Santa Fe, New Mexico
A 'fridgehenge' in Santa Fe, New Mexico
A 'fridgehenge' in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is slowly being vandalized and destroyed.
Their quality assurance experts believe that the most effective means of combating these illegal practices is through more frequent and thorough monitoring of waste disposal channels.

Christoph Becker, Secretary to the Association, believes that this would, at least, solve to the problem of disposal in car shredders - though self-monitoring by car shredder operators would also help. Both of the companies mentioned in the Capital report said that refrigeration appliances are not part of the regular waste intake into their shredder units.

Port controls

The RAL Quality Assurance Association believes that because most illegal exports appear to be channelled through the major European ports, it shoould be possible to step up the efficiency of these border controls. Sources report that the export of CFC-containing appliances is now receiving greater attention by the EU regulators, and will probably be given even more weight in future, followiong the Capital article.

It is also essential, they say, that the greatest possible number of waste refrigerator and freezer appliances are sent to dedicated fridge recycling plants for treatment.

Christoph Becker is Secretary to the RAL Quality Assurance Association for the Demanufacture of Refrigeration Equipment

Note: Emissions of CFCs to date have accounted for roughly 80 per cent of total stratospheric ozone depletion. And, on average, CFCs are 40 times more effective as a greenhouse gas than CO2.