Recycle Old Cooling Units
By Betty Stephens
How do you properly dispose of an old air conditioner? When replacing an air conditioner with a new model, what should you do with the old unit? Can an air conditioner be disposed of in the trash? What is the best way to dispose of an air conditioner?
What Typically Happens To Old Refrigerator Or Freezer?
Almost all of the materials in your refrigerator or freezer can be recycled. This includes the metal cabinet, plastic liner, glass shelves, the refrigerant and oil in the compressor, and the blowing agent contained in polyurethane foam insulation. After appliances are collected they can be resold, recycled, or landfilled.
Resale: Sometimes appliances that are in working condition are refurbished and resold domestically or abroad to developing countries. Because these appliances consume large amounts of electricity and are less efficient toward the end-of-life, appliance re-sale should be avoided to save energy. Moreover, for those units sold in developing countries, their ultimate disposal is less likely to be carried out responsibly.
Recycling: Appliance recycling typically entails recovery of refrigerant and removal of hazardous components followed by shredding of evacuated appliances. Metal components are typically separated and recycled, while glass, plastics and polyurethane foam, are typically sent to a landfill. Because there are no legal requirements for foam recovery, the blowing agent contained in the foam insulation is emitted during shredding and landfilling—thus contributing to ozone depletion and to global climate change.
Landfilling: Typically, when a waste hauler brings appliances to a landfill, refrigerated appliances are separated until a technician recovers refrigerant and other hazardous components, after which, the appliances are landfilled. Sometimes disposed appliances are reportedly landfilled whole, without shredding or removal of durable components.
Air conditioners regardless of type all contain some form of cooling refrigerant. As there are federal or state/province regulations as to disposal of these types of appliances, before you dispose of it in a landfill, recycle or trash bin, call your local sanitation department to find out if it needs to be prepared before it can be discarded. It may just need to be taken to a certain disposal area, or it may require a qualified technician to remove the coolant, similar to what is done with disposal of refrigerators and freezers.
If you are buying a replacement air conditioner, check with the retailer to see if they'll take and dispose of your old model for you. Some merchants may provide this service as part of the sale.
The final disposer of appliances is responsible for recovering any refrigerant contained in appliances. If the enterprise that recovers the refrigerant is not also the final disposer of the appliance, EPA requires a signed statement containing the name and address of the person who recovered the refrigerant, and the date that the refrigerant was recovered. Please note that no sticker is required for disposal.
Nevertheless, illegal activities, including appliance dumping, venting of refrigerant, and release of hazardous components to the environment, still occur. Appliance owners should avoid illegal dumping and should dispose of appliances responsibly. To the extent possible, make sure to schedule the collection of your appliance with your Department of Public Works, a retailer, bounty program, or other recycler; appliances simply left on the curb without a scheduled pick-up date are likely to be picked up by peddlers who may improperly vent refrigerant or otherwise dispose of the appliance in an unsound manner.
To encourage appliance recycling and proper disposal of hazardous components, EPA has launched the Responsible Appliance Disposal (RAD) Program. RAD Partners ensure the proper handling not only of refrigerant and other hazardous components regulated by federal laws, but also foam blowing agent.
EPA requires establishments that dispose of small appliances to certify to the appropriate EPA Regional Office that they have recovery or recycling equipment that meet EPA standards for such devices (i.e., equipment must achieve 90% recovery efficiency when the appliance compressor is operational, or 80% recovery efficiency when the appliance compressor is not operational). This certification form (140K, 4 pp, About PDF) must be signed by the owner of the equipment or another responsible officer and sent to the appropriate EPA Regional Office. Owners do not have to submit a new form each time they add recycling or recovery equipment to their inventory.
EPA requires establishments that dispose of small appliances to certify to the appropriate EPA Regional Office that they have recovery or recycling equipment that meet EPA standards for such devices (i.e., equipment must achieve 90% recovery efficiency when the appliance compressor is operational, or 80% recovery efficiency when the appliance compressor is not operational). This certification form must be signed by the owner of the equipment or another responsible officer and sent to the appropriate EPA Regional Office. Owners do not have to submit a new form each time they add recycling or recovery equipment to their inventory.
Hazardous components, including PCBs and mercury, and compressor oil, must be removed from appliances before disposal in accordance with 40 CFR Parts 273, 279, 761. However, the treatment of ODS-containing foam is not regulated.