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What are the Best Methods for Recycling Refrigerant?

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  • Written By: Sheryl Butterfield
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 09 September 2016
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The best methods for recycling refrigerant require an explanation of what refrigerant is and its role in the cooling cycle of refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners and other appliances. Refrigerants are compounds used in cooling that are boiled from liquid to gas then condensed back to liquid. In the 1980s, many of those compounds were discovered to be major contributors to ozone depletion. Since the Montreal Protocol (1987), countries all over the world are agreeing to phase out toxic refrigerants and other hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) with natural, environmentally friendly compounds.

The U.S. incorporated the Montreal Protocol by establishing the Clean Air Act (Title VI), which is enforced through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Although no mandatory agreements exist internationally, the Kyoto Protocol is aiming toward phasing out use and production of HCFCs. The United Nations climate change conferences offer opportunities for world leaders to discuss phaseout of ozone-depleting chemicals as well.

Homeowners and heating, venting and air conditioning (HVAC) businesses and their employees, are responsible for proper use of refrigerant. Technicians must be certified to even purchase refrigerants. In the past, the compounds were vented into the air during service calls or installation. Current EPA regulations now require special equipment to carry out the best methods for recycling refrigerant.

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Section 608 of the Clean Air Act specifies definitions of reclaiming, recovering or recycling. Reclaiming a refrigerant entails reprocessing the compound until it reaches a certain level of purity. Recovery means removing a refrigerant from the appliance and storing it externally. Recycling refrigerant involves extraction from the appliance then cleaning for reuse. Refrigerants may be cleaned for reuse in a couple of different ways.

Oil separation is one method of cleaning then recycling refrigerant. The compound can also be filtered through a filter/drier device several times. This process decreases moisture, acids and particulates in the refrigerant.

Refrigerant's power to deplete the ozone and contribute to global warming decreases when proper methods for recycling are followed. One of the best methods for recycling refrigerant starts with installation. HVAC technicians must ensure that home systems that use refrigerant are installed properly. This prevents HCFCs and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) from leaking into the atmosphere in the first place.

Another goal of recycling refrigerant is safe disposal of the appliances that contain refrigerant. Homeowners and business owners should responsibly dispose of old refrigerators, air conditioners and freezers, as well as any other appliance or device using refrigerant. In many industrialized nations, safe hazardous waste disposal requirements are being established.

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