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Recycling Your Air Conditioner

Posted by Anne Staley on October 21, 2014
Recycling Your Air Conditioner

In today’s technology-fueled world, innovations are being made at a rapid rate that help simplify human life. The air conditioner is one such invention that provides temperature control for homes, offices, and whole buildings. Today, air conditioners can be operated with a flick of a remote control, and some can even be accessed through smart phones or tablets.

The newer ones are also highly efficient when it comes to electricity consumption, and use material that is eco-friendly and safe for the environment—but this wasn’t always the case. When cooling appliances, such as air conditioners and refrigerators first came into mass consumption, they contained harmful refrigerants like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydro chlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), which contributed to the thinning of Earth’s ozone layer and played a part in climate change. While newer air conditioners contain a more ozone-friendly refrigerant in hydro fluorocarbons (HFCs), they still affect climate change.  This means that older air conditioners need to be replaced, not just for the environment, but also because they’re less expensive to run and maintain. And when the older air conditioners are replaced, appropriate disposal is of paramount importance.

Recycling

An air conditioner can’t just be dumped into a landfill. The refrigerant needs to be extracted and disposed of correctly so that it isn’t exposed to the environment. And since the average man on the street isn’t equipped with the knowledge and technical knowhow to deconstruct an air conditioner, the only responsible method to discard it is to drop it off at a scrap metal recycling facility. There are a few reasons why this is important.

  • Legality: It is considered illegal to vent refrigerants out into the environment. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a very clear protocol in place, and this protocol must be followed accurately. Failure to do so can result in punitive action. This protocol includes extraction and subsequent destruction or reclamation of refrigerants before the electronic appliance enters the waste stream. Also included is the clause requiring the maintenance of records of each refrigerant containing electronic appliance that is disposed of, this includes details of the establishment doing the disposing, and information regarding the product such as manufacturer, model, manufacture date, and serial number.
  • Environmentally responsible: As mentioned earlier, the refrigerants in these appliances, especially older ones can be devastatingly harmful to the environment. This needs to be neutralized correctly so that the ozone doesn’t get further depleted, and more drastic climate change doesn’t occur. It’s the socially responsible thing to do.
  • Revenue generating: Because air conditioners are made up, for a large part, of ferrous metals; they can be melted and re-sold as raw material. This makes them a precious commodity, and one that the recyclers will pay for. Even the refrigerant can earn you money, as EPA certified recyclers will even pay you for the refrigerant along with the metal.

So if you plan on upgrading your air conditioner, keep an eye out for electronics recycling drives. State governments usually organize events like this one by the Solid Waste Agency of Lake County (SWALCO) and Sims Metal Management, which was organized on Earth Day. Drives like these are a great way to provide momentum to a community effort and dispose of old electronics. Whatever you do though, don’t just toss the old air conditioner on the curb. 

 

Anne Staley is an environmentalist from Camden, New Jersey. 

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