F-gas disposal may be described as an overlooked process in end of life vehicle dismantling, we received the viewpoints of Simon Walker, Founder and Director of SJW Enviro Consulting Ltd, and the Environment Agency on this topic.
In March 2014 the European Parliament passed regulations on the use of fluorinated greenhouse gases (F-gases). These were subsequently brought into English law with The Fluorinated Greenhouse Gases Regulations 2015. F-gases are man-made gases with a global warming effect up to 23,000 times greater than Carbon Dioxide and are widely used in air-conditioning systems in cars and vans.
There are legal controls on F-gases in mobile air-conditioning (MAC) equipment in cars and light vans that will affect your business if you dismantle these vehicles. Any MAC equipment containing F-gas that is being disposed of at end-of-life must undergo an F-gas recovery process:
- Only appropriately qualified personnel must remove F-gases from MAC systems at the end of a vehicle’s life to ensure the F-gases are recycled, reclaimed or destroyed. Qualified personnel must be certified by an approved body appointed by the Secretary of State.
- The use of non-refillable containers for transporting and storing F-gases is banned.
All recovered F-gases can either be:
- Sent for destruction by incineration at a suitably permitted waste facility.
- Sent to a specialist plant that can re-process the old refrigerant into a gas with properties identical to virgin refrigerant, to create reclaimed refrigerant.
- Given a basic cleaning process, to create recycled refrigerant.
The Fluorinated Greenhouse Gases (Amendment) Regulations 2018 were laid before Parliament in January 2018. This legislation allowed the regulatory authorities to apply civil penalties for non-compliance with the F-gas rules to act as a deterrent for companies and individuals.
End-of-Life vehicle dismantlers and appropriately qualified personnel could face fines of up to £200,000 for deliberately releasing F-gases into the environment. Failure to comply with the regulations or not properly recovering F-gases carries a maximum penalty of £100,000.
The responsibility of enforcing these regulations in England lies with the Environment Agency (EA). However, a report by the Environmental Audit Commission published in April 2018 described the EA as being ‘under-resourced to adequately investigate large levels of non-compliance with the F-gas regulations’. Up to the date of publication of the report, there had only been one prosecution – and that from a company openly reporting its own breach of the regulations. The report went on to say: ‘The low number of investigations and the single prosecution for a self-reported breach since the beginning of 2015, when the current F-gas Regulations came into effect, do not inspire confidence’.
Since the publishing of the Environment Audit Commission’s report, things have not improved. In 2018, only 4 of the 1616 registered Authorised Treatment Facilities (ATFs) in England reported recovering any F-gas and in 2019, the last year where figures are available, five ATFs reported recovering a total of 0.56 tonnes of F-gas. During these two years, the EA did not bring one prosecution for failure to comply with the F-gas regulations.
The EA has recently promised to look at the way that they enforce the F-gas Regulations.
All waste facilities, which include ATFs, that hold an environmental permit have a duty, under the conditions of the permit, to report waste received and removed from the site in quarterly or annual returns to the EA. ATFs recovering F-gas should use the code 14 06 01 to record the quantity of F-gas removed from the site. Any facility that dismantles end-of-life vehicles containing MACs should use this code or open itself up to further scrutiny from the EA.
For those ATFs that do not have the facilities to adequately deal with recovered F-gas, there is currently only one company based in Leeds that offers a cradle to grave recovery service. This includes the provision of re-usable containers, collection of full containers anywhere in the country, the recycling of F-gases in a safe, ethical and legal manner, and access to documentation allowing the completion of EA waste returns. If the EA police the regulations more thoroughly in the future, more such recovery services may become operational.
If you would like to contact Simon, please call him on 07471 910102 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
The EA’s response
Matthew Kendall, Advisor Waste Treatment & Storage, Environment & Business Directorate at the Environment Agency provides the following information in response to this article with particular reference to the reuse of F-gas from End of Life Vehicles (ELVs) to recharge the air conditioning systems of other vehicles, he said:
“There are significant environmental risks from deliberate venting of F-gas at ELV facilities and the risks associated with poor depollution practices. Any cases of deliberate venting are taken seriously by the Environment Agency, and where we discover non-compliance with environmental regulations then enforcement action is taken in line with our Enforcement and Sanctions policy.
There is a reuse market for F-gas recovered from ELVs, and recovered F-gas may not be being viewed as a waste by ELV operators when they are using it to recharge air con systems, which may explain the absence of air-con within the waste returns data mentioned in the article.
We have published a Regulatory Position Statement (RPS226) which explains when operators can use R134a air conditioning gas removed from end of life vehicles (ELVs) to recharge or top-up vehicle air conditioning systems.
ELV operators should maintain records of how much air conditioning gas they have recovered from ELVs and information on the quantity of F-gas purchased and the date it was purchased.
Relevant guidance on compliance with the F-gas regulations can be found at www.gov.uk/government/collections
Also, guidance for ELV operators which includes a section on depollution (which removal of air conditioning gas is a part of) can be found at www.gov.uk/guidance