EXCLUSIVE: The Environment Agency has this week said that it will work with fridge reprocessors to address ‘storage difficulties’ arising at treatment facilities, in the face of growing fridge stockpiles.
Capacity at the UK’s permitted fridge reprocessing plants is under pressure, with a surge in the sale of new fridges during the summer months contributing to the backlog at some reprocessing sites. And, the problem has been exacerbated by the temporary closure of operational lines at two or more of the facilities.
There are eight sites in the UK which can take fridges and several of these cannot take new tonnages in for storage ahead of processing. This is because they are at legal storage capacity unless the Agency or its counterparts in Scotland and Wales relax storage rules.
Fridge reprocessors have been under pressure since the Agency moved to enforce more stringent rules on the treatment of cooling equipment over the last two years.
As a result, fridges can only be handled at sites conforming to the Best Available Treatment standards – where they are degassed and shredded.
Now the Agency has said that it will seek to agree to storage extensions on a case by case basis, where there may be potential to cause environmental or health and safety problems. A spokesman for the Agency said: “We are working with local authorities and the industry to address any temporary storage difficulties and reduce pressure on the disposal of fridge freezers.”
Figures published by the Environment Agency last month (see letsrecycle.com story) indicate that a total of 65,075 tonnes of cooling appliances were collected during the first six months of the year. This compares to a total of 58,842 tonnes collected during the same period in 2015 – an increase of over 6,000 tonnes.
Among the the UK’s eight fridge reprocessing sites, including Sims in Newport and Viridor’s Perth facility, the two have been forced to operate at a reduced input levels in order to avoid exceeding storage requirements.
At a third reprocessor, a fire at Environcom’s fridge site in Stourbridge in August has also taken treatment capacity out of the market (see letsrecycle.com story).
Dan Cooke, director of regulatory affairs at Viridor confirmed that the company had witnessed a surge in fridges in recent months, but said that it is working to accommodate increased tonnages.
He said: “As one of the UK’s WEEE recyclers, Viridor is responding to a 30% surge in fridges presented for recycling.
“In addition to enhancing processing capacity at our St. Helen’s and Perth facilities, Viridor is engaging with our compliance scheme partners to understand and accommodate the increased presentation. Whilst having restricted inputs to our facilities for a short period in early summer to ensure our continued commitment to high quality recycling performance, we are returning to normalised intake.”
He added: “Viridor has responded resiliently to the summer surge, working constructively with regulatory partners, and continues to offer short-term storage as well as processing to partners.”
Philip Morton, chief executive of WEEE producer compliance scheme Repic, confirmed that there had been a spike in sales of fridges over the summer months.
Speaking to letsrecycle.com he said: “What we have now I think is a temporary situation, through the summer months there were a lot of sales out of new fridges. What we don’t know is whether that was due to promotions – producers making great offers to sell new fridges, or that people’s fridges were just conking out so they were buying them and it was a pull. Whatever happened, more fridges went out on the market and more came back. What that did was to fill up the storage pipeline and the capacity within the industry.
“Whatever happened, more fridges went out on the market and more came back. What that did was to fill up the storage pipeline and the capacity within the industry.”
“I remain hopeful that is a temporary blip and that the UK is about right with its capacity. If we are progressively going to get more fridges coming back then we are going to need more capacity but realistically if you were to dig a hole in the ground today you wouldn’t have anything finished until 2018. I think maybe we need to look at relaxing some of the storage issues to overcome a blip.”
However, Peter Hunt, managing director of the Yorkshire-based hazardous waste and WEEE specialist WasteCare, said that without major investment in treatment capacity, there are likely to be further ‘pinch points’ for fridge recyclers.
And, he claimed that a fall in the overall value of scrap metal in the last 18 months could put off any potential investment in treatment capacity.
He said: “We can’t see this problem going away any time soon. This summer we saw more fridges being sold, that might now ease off until Christmas, but then we might see a similar thing again in January and potentially next summer.”
Mr Hunt added that a deal struck between some of the world’s major developed nations in Rwanda last week for the reduction of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) – a major contributor to greenhouse gases in cooling products – could make fridges easier to process. However, he added that any potential benefit from the agreement could be years away.