Refrigeration disposal

Environmentally friendly refrigeration equipment maintenance and waste disposal

We all hope that refrigeration and freezing units will last as long as possible - they are expensive appliances and any catering business needs to ensure that money spent on catering equipment goes as far as possible.

Another good reason to aim for long service life in a fridge is that there is no avoiding the fact that many refrigerators use technology that is harmful to the environment, and that their manufacture uses significant amounts of energy and resources. Older fridges and freezers contain substances that are particularly bad for the environment, but even modern fridges have an impact when disposed of incorrectly. The longer you can keep your fridge or freezer in operation, the lower its impact per year of service life, as the effects of manufacture and disposal are spread over a longer time frame. When you do dispose of it, there are things you can do to ensure the impact of that disposal is limited.


What is it about refrigeration technology that is harmful?

Our article on refrigeration technology efficiency explains in simple terms how your commercial refrigeration or freezing appliances work. The most harmful element to the environment are the refrigerant fluids used in the vapour compression cooling cycle, and some of the insulating foams used in doors and walls. The types of refrigerants used in fridges and freezers over the years have included CFCs such as R-12 or "Freon" and HCFCs like R-21 or "Freon 21", both of which deplete the ozone layer and are banned or phased out. Since the 1990s HFCs such as R-134A and R-404A have been used as replacements, and although these harm the ozone layer far less, they are still potent greenhouse gases.

Many manufacturers now also offer models with non-halogenated hydrocarbons, or "hydrocarbon natural refrigerants", for example Isopropane (R-290A), Isobutane (R-600A). These have extremely low ozone depletion properties and also aren't significant contributors to global warming.


How can I reduce my impact on disposal?

1.) Buy smart

The most effective thing that you can do to reduce the environmental impact of fridge disposal is to delay the day you have to get rid of yours for as long as possible, by buying smart, and also pick a model that causes least harm when dissassembled. Purchase a freezer or refrigerator that is built to last, and that uses greener technology, for example a model that uses hydrocarbon natural refrigerants in the cooling cycle. Both Gram and Foster provide several models that use these refrigerants as standard, and also offer upgrades for models that don't (sometimes at no extra cost).

You should also look for a model with a long "as standard" warranty, 3 years or more, and even better one that includes both parts and labour. This is a good indication of build quality (manufacturers are unlikely to offer these perks for equipment with average or failure rates). Even beyond the term of a long "as standard" warranty, high quality appliances like these should require less frequent repair and last longer overall.

2.) Maintain your fridge or freezer

Regular maintenance can help you to spot potential problems before they manifest in a way that causes damage or reduces refrigeration efficiency. A few things you can do to try and look after your fridge are:

  • Properly situate your refrigerator or freezer. Areas with lower ambient temperatures are better, and ensure the intake vent and exhaust vent are clear of obstructions. Make sure the area behind the refrigerator is clear and well ventilated. Make sure your refrigerator is level.
  • Clean dust from condenser coils, using a hoover or by wiping.
  • Check the door seals for cracks and holes, and for overall effectiveness. You can do this by trapping a five pound note in the door and then trying to draw it out - good seals will create some resistance, poor ones less so. Cleaning the seals and the door recess they contact with can help them work more effectively too (vinegar works well).
  • If your fridge or freezer temperature fluctuates in a way that is not consistent with ambient temperature, or if the temperature rises outside correct operating temperature, you should contact a refrigeration maintenance and repair specialist.

3.) Repair your fridge if possible

If you think your fridge is starting to fail, before replacing it and throwing the old one away we strongly recommend seeking the advice of a refrigeration repair or maintenance company. We are certainly not advocates of perpetually fixing un-economical old appliances, but often a fridge can be repaired by a professional refrigeration engineer and given a new lease of life, particularly if it was well made to begin with. Door seals can be restored or replaced, compressors repaired, refrigerant fluids recharged, and so on. Finding a knowledgeable refrigeration repair specialist, who will be clear about whether your fridge can be economically repaired or has reached the point where it should be replaced, is a bonus.

Three million fridges are disposed of in the UK each year, and the average lifespan is just over ten years. However, there is no reason why a commercial fridge cannot last twenty years (and many do) if certain components are serviced or replaced.

4.) Dispose of the fridge responsibly

Once you have gone past the point of no return with your fridge or freezer, as a business disposing of hazardous waste you should expect to have to pay a fee for proper collection and disposal. Your legal obligations for refrigeration disposal are covered by three overlapping pieces of legislation.

  • Environmental Protection Act 1990 "Waste Management Duty of Care", explaining your general obligations surrounding all kinds of waste disposal. Business waste is treated separately to domestic waste, and includes anything generated by commercial activity even if the business is run from home.
  • EC regulation 2037/2000 "Removal of ODS", explaining how all refrigeration units containing Ozone Depleting Substances like CFCs and HCFCs in refrigerants or in insulating foam must have them removed in a controlled manner before scrappage.
  • The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment regulations (WEEE), explaining how businesses must reuse, recycle and recover electrical appliances of any kind wherever possible.

The combined impact of these three sets of regulations is that businesses in the UK must undertake the following during waste disposal.

  • Classification of waste according to whether it is hazardous or non-hazardous. Fridges are considered to contain materials that count as hazardous waste.
  • Registration of premises that store or produce hazardous waste (not usually applicable to catering businesses)
  • Getting a permit for storage, treatment, transport or disposal of hazardous waste (not usually applicable to catering businesses)
  • Storage of waste safely and securely. It is illegal to mix a hazardous waste with either non-hazardous or another hazardous waste.
  • Transportation of waste safely off business premises, using only a licensed business to do so.
  • Ensuring any waste removal or disposal businesses you deal with are properly licenced (and you must keep proof of this such as a copy of permits or licenses). In practice this means using a private company registered with the Environment Agency and get a Waste Transfer Note for the collection. Local waste collection authority sites like municipal dumps, tips and recycling centres do not generally accept commercial waste without a fee, and are likely to not accept commercial hazardous waste at all - certainly they are not legally obliged to. Your local authority will generally advise you on private companies who can handle fridge or freezer disposal.

If you think you can avoid the cost of professional waste collection and still dispose of the fridge in a legal and environmentally friendly way then that's fantastic, but be honest with yourself about whether your "free" option is really legal and environmentally friendly. Attempting to drain CFCs from the unit yourself is dangerous to the individual and in all likelihood will not stop a large quantity of the chemical escaping into the atmosphere. Bear in mind what may happen if you attempt to cut corners and are caught - if you use a non-licensed waste disposal company and you fridge or freezer is fly-tipped, you will have civic liability. Or if your refrigerator is disposed of without controlled removal of Ozone Depleting Substances, you will be liable for a £2500 fine and prosecution under EC regulations.