The United Kingdom has been committed to reducing harmful emissions for some time, along with other countries across mainland Europe. Apart from this being a responsible thing to do, it is actually mandatory following the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. This piece of United Nations legislation was agreed in September 1987 and was enforced from 1 January 1989. While much attention has been focused on harmful gases coming from motor vehicles and factory chimneys a recent target is the plant and machinery actually installed in buildings.
European Union legislation starting in 2009 saw the rapid phasing out of chlorofluorocarbons used in appliances such as fridges. Following on from this action, hydro chlorofluorocarbons (HCFC) are being targeted. This is a substance commonly found in air conditioning systems and refrigerators and is known as refrigerant gas R22. It is not installed at all now although some recycled R22 can be found in some instances. From 1 January 2015 the refrigerant gas R22 cannot be used in any form, either virgin or recycled. It will still be possible to run cooling systems with R22 installed but, should the appliances break down, it will be illegal to top up or replace the R22 gas.
It is clear therefore that this legislation is going to have a profound effect on all owners of buildings with AC systems containing R22. Landlords and tenants of such buildings will be affected. Landlords, for example will need to invest a lot of money to replace old systems, although it may be possible to use alternative refrigerant gas products in the interim. If this course is taken the replacement gas will obviously need to be ozone friendly. The consequences of this considerable financial outlay will, in all likelihood, affect tenants’ service charges and there is nothing much that can be done to prevent that happening.
Turning to the issue of R22 in domestic fridges and freezers, there is a similar problem. Older appliances with R22 installed need to be properly recycled. Unfortunately this is far from the case in some areas. Many end up in scrap yards or on landfill sites and are not dealt with in the proper way. These units contain a number of hazardous materials, including R22.
The safest way to dispose of old fridges is if the company you are buying a new one from has a scheme to complete “de-manufacture” your old unit. If this is so every component should be disposed of properly. However, some old fridges end up on the second hard market and continue to be used for a number of years. What happens then is that there are continuing harmful effects to the ozone layer and an excessive use of energy is consumed by these inefficient units.
The bottom line is that there is no sensible alternative to getting rid of old appliances and AC systems that use R22 gas at the earliest opportunity. Companies who ignore the upcoming deadline date risk heavy fines or even mandatory shutdowns of their factories or premises. Leaving it to the last minute could be disastrous of course – there will be a shortage of replacement units on the market and a shortage of qualified engineers available to do the replacement work.