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Environmental impacts

What does a refrigeration appliance contain?

Cooling appliances contain many hazardous and toxic components in addition to plastics and metal .

Many cooling appliances manufactured before 1995 are still in use in Canada. This equipment contains chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) or hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), ozone-depleting substances (ODSs) and potent greenhouse gases (GHGs). These gases have gradually been prohibited. New appliances now contain hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which have no impact on the ozone layer but are still potent GHGs. The United States, Canada and Mexico are lobbying to reduce HFC use.
 
The majority of North-American appliances contain halocarbons in their refrigeration system and foam insulation. When these gases are not trapped and destroyed, they have a major impact on atmospheric warming (700 to 10,900 times that of CO₂). In addition, some freezers built before 2000 contain 1 to 1.5 grams of mercury, which is highly toxic for the food chain and human beings.
 
Ordinary recycling is not enough!
With all these substances, a refrigerator, when thrown in the garbage, releases up to 3.7 metric tons of CO₂ equivalent, which is the same amount emitted by a car that travels 17,500 km!

Environmental impacts 

The environmental impact of refrigeration appliances that are not recycled responsibly is enormous:

  • Depletion of the ozone layer
  • Acceleration of climate change
  • Mercury contamination of the environment 
The halocarbons in refrigeration appliances contribute to the greenhouse effect. These gases prevent heat escaping from the earth and deplete the ozone layer that filters the sun’s rays. The greenhouse effect and ozone layer depletion contribute to global warming. Consequently, the demand for air conditioning and power rises, more refrigeration appliances are manufactured, and a vicious cycle begins.
 
The effects of climate change include: 
  • Increased health risks
  • Extreme weather (floods, droughts, forest fires, etc.)
  • Higher sea levels
  • Reduced agricultural output
  • Reduction in phytoplankton, which feeds many fish 
  • Changes in wildlife habitats 
  • And much more!
Properties of the Main Gases Used in Refrigeration and Air Conditioning

Gas

Use

Global Warming Potential (Metric tons of CO₂  equivalent)

Ozone-Depletion Potential 

CFC-11

Foam insulation and industrial coolers

4750

1

CFC-12

Refrigeration gas

10 900

1

HCFC-141b

Foam insulation

725

0.11

HCFC-22

Refrigeration gas

1700

0,055

HFC-134a

Refrigeration gas

1430

0

 
Translation of an extract from “Une importante source de gaz à effet de serres” in Vecteur Environnement (November 2012) 
 
Statistics : 
  • In Québec, about 158,000 refrigerators, 62,500 freezers and 62,500 air conditioners reach the end of their service life every year¹. 
  • Over 95% of commercial air-conditioning equipment uses HCFC as a refrigerant². 
  • In 2007, about 26% of the refrigerators and freezers in use were manufactured before 1995 and therefore contained CFCs, a substance that is now prohibited.
Sources :
  1. Estimate of out-of-service equipment in 2011 and related volume of halocarbon refrigerants, Environment Canada (2011)
  2. Bilan des ventes d’halocarbures et des reprises d’halocarburesusés au Québec de 2003 à 2009,  Direction des politiques de la qualité de l’atmosphère, Ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environnement, de la Faune et des Parcs, Gouvernement du Québec (2012)
  3. État de situation des rejets anthropiques de mercure dans l’environnement au Québec, Direction des politiques en milieu terrestre, Développement durable, de l’Environnement, de la Faune et des Parcs, Gouvernement du Québec, 2007