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Fridges dumped after hazardous waste ruling

A recent reclassification of fridges containing pentane foam as hazardous has resulted in a spate of fridge dumping.

The Environment Agency (EA) now considers pentane, which is often used as the blowing agent in the insulating foam of modern fridges, to be highly flammable. It has been classed as hazardous since June.

Ian Hetherington, director general of the British Metal Recycling Association (BMRA), told MRW that many plants with shredders can no longer accept fridges and that fridges can only be taken to specialist recyclers to be degassed.

“We would contend that the levels of hazard [of pentane] are very manageable,” he said.

He said that prices for fridges had gone down and, for the first time in years, the BMRA had received complaints from the West Midlands, East Midlands and from the North East about roadside dumping.

Specialist WEEE providers are seeking more fridges because of a shortage of feedstock in metal recycling during the economic slowdown, he said.  

Sean Feeney, chief executive officer of Environcom, told MRW his company had taken in 20% more fridges since the hazardous classification came in. “Capacity is fuller, but there was surplus capacity before and now supply and demand is a much better mix.”

He said that other specialist fridge recyclers had “mothballed” in the past, because they did not have enough fridges, but these were now being used.

“On the basis that there are many thousands more fridges going through the appropriate fridge recycling and specialist equipment, it’s far more a good thing than the negatives and odd bit of fly-tipping.”

An EA guidance note on the new classification stated that the agency had received reports of poor practice at waste management facilities involving the deliberate puncturing of cooling circuits and removal of compressors before they had been fully degassed and drained.

The EA also believed that some operators were advising customers to remove the compressor or break the cooling circuit on the back of the fridge before disposal to avoid the need for degassing.

Case study: Fridge fly-tipping in Walsall

Walsall council saw a total of 117 fridges or freezers abandoned on the street by fly tippers during July, because scrap yards were no longer accepting them under the new legislation. Another 170 were dumped in Walsall in August, The BBC reported.

The council said that some scrap collectors were collecting fridges from residential properties and fly tipping them, once they had removed any metal parts including motors and copper wiring, which they could sell on. 

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