The HCFCs (hydrochlorofluorocarbons) that cool many refrigerators and freezers make it difficult to dispose of those units. Owners can’t simply have them hauled to the dump, and the curbside pickup options that homeowners use generally aren’t available for commercial customers.
Commercial owners, therefore, have three options. They may sell or donate the equipment if it’s in good working order or, if not, recycle it.
Online sites like Craig’s list and eBay include used (and new) commercial appliances that are being sold by individual owners for a wide range of prices. Also check the yellow pages for local used appliances dealers and auctions.
The Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center not only accepts commercial refrigerators and freezers, but may pick them up for free. Habitat for Humanity and some local charities also accept commercial products from restaurants, hotels, and other sites.
Ten-year-old refrigerators contain more than 120 pounds of recyclable steel, as well as other recyclable components, such as foam insulation, plastic, oil, and refrigerants. The EPA, through its Responsible Appliance Disposal (RAD) program, partners with companies to recycle or properly dispose of those components. The website includes a list of certified disposal programs as well as guidelines detailing how to recover refrigerant.
If you’re installing a new refrigerator or freezer, contact the manufacturer to see if it will haul away the old equipment. If not, local utilities sometimes offer recycling programs for commercial, as well as residential, refrigerators, freezers, and cooling equipment. Contact your local utility or the Appliance Recycling Centers of America for programs in your area. Many local scrap recyclers also accept commercial refrigerators and freezers.
Dealing with Refrigerants
If recycling is the best option, consider salvaging the refrigerant for your client’s other refrigeration equipment. With the manufacture and importation of HCFC-22 (R-22) banned beginning in 2020, technicians can recover the R-22 from equipment they are replacing and use it to recharge other equipment owned by the same client.
Importantly, the refrigerant you recover must be used in equipment owned by that same client. You cannot reuse refrigerant you have recovered from one client’s equipment on refrigeration units owned by a different client. The alternative is to sell it to an EPA-certified reclaimer.
Legally, only EPA-certified reclaimers may sell reclaimed refrigerants. Certified reclaimers include some refrigerant manufacturers (like Chemours), as well as some refrigerant suppliers, distributors, and wholesalers. To reclaim R-22 and other refrigerants, these companies analyze the refrigerant, consolidate it with other reclaimed coolants of the same type, reprocess it to ensure it is pure, and verify that purity before reselling it.
If reprocessing isn’t convenient, a third option is to recover the refrigerant and send it to an EPA-certified facility for destruction.
To recover refrigerant, follow the same EPA guidelines that you follow when servicing the units. Check with the EPA to determine the necessary levels of refrigerant evacuation. Volumes vary based upon unit pressurization and age of the equipment.
Knowing the ins and outs of refrigerator/freezer disposal is valuable information your clients need. Having that knowledge and sharing it with your clients makes you invaluable.