Waste stream definition
Large Household Appliances producing cold waste (LHA cold) are derived from “large household electrical and electronic equipment producing cold and falling, until August 14th, 2018 under sub-category 1-A defined in Article R543-172, II, of the Environment Code, and under category 1 as of August 15th, 2018. This stream is composed mainly of refrigerators and air conditioners.
The LHA cold stream represented 17% of the tonnage of WEEE collected and treated in 2015 in France.
Composition of LHA cold
Others : Blowing agent, External power cable, Water, Refrigerant gas, Oils, Glass wool, Glass
Figure 1: Composition of LHA cold (Study ADEME 2011)
Waste stream depollution and recycling
Depollution / pretreatment
Whatever the type of refrigerant used, LHA cold will undergo the same sequence of operations for the depollution and recycling.
The first preprocessing step is focused on removing the external power cables, and on the glass parts (shelves). This product stream is then cleaned up of the capacitors and any mercury switches that may be prsent in the products. All these steps are performed manually until now.
Recovery of the refrigerant and the oil in the compressor is performed semi-automated manner using machine punching the refrigeration circuit to draw the fluids present.The compressor is removed before mechanical treatment of the rest of the product. Gases used in insulation foams are captured during the grinding step (see below).
Refrigerants are recovered because they have a high global warming potential (GWP). For example, HFC-152a has a GWP100 of 138, and HFC-23, another HFC gas family has a GWP100 of 12 400. This means that the emission of 1 kg of HFC-23 is equivalent to the emission of 12 400 kg of CO2 in the atmosphere. On the other hand, certain gases formerly used are also harmful to the ozone layer.
Regulations applicable to these refrigerants are listed in the annual report of the ADEME on fluorinated refrigerants (french only).
Treatment / Recycling
The LHA cold appliances are subsequently crushed to liberate and separate the materials. The special feature of LHA cold is that they are ground in a sealed crusher to recover the gas used to expand insulation foam from products. After the grinding step, sorting of different materials can direct them to their recycling system.
Summary diagram of the treatment of LHA cold:
Oils that are recovered during the depollution step can be directed to a material recovery facility (regeneration) or energy recovery. The gases are eliminated in specific processing units, usually by incineration.
Proposed improvement plan
The table below provides some ideas to improve the depollution and recycling of LHA cold appliances. These ideas are coming from studies on the recycling of some products and difficulties encountered by treatment operators responsible for the treatment of WEEE. These areas for improvement can initiate a deeper reflection from producers. However, each product has its specificities and a number of other constraints to fulfill.
|Encountered difficulties||Impact for recycling||Eco design opportunities|
|Refrigerant circuit is empty.||It is not possible to collect the refrigerants fluids (greenhouse gas).||Protect the circuit against shocks that may occur during the handling of the product.|
|Association of non-separable materials (e.g. polyurethane insulation foam with metal casing of the product).||Decrease of purity of the recycled material.||Ensure proper separation of materials. Avoid contamination of recyclable materials with insulation foams.|
|Association of non-compatible materials (e.g. glass doors with aluminium frame).||Concerned parts are not recycled.||Prefer removable fasteners for non-compatible materials during recycling.|
|Leakage of refrigerant fluid.||Overload of the compressor.|
Gas refilling delicate.
|Improve the sealing of refrigerant circuit. Protect the circuit against shocks that may occur during the handling of the product.|
|Hinges and doors seals are damaged.||Bad closing and / or sealing of the door.|
Risk of detachment of the door when handling.
|Improve the strength of the hinges.
Facilitate the replacement of the door seal.
– Article R543-172 of the Environment Code. Légifrance (french only).
– Rule of the 8th of October 2014 […] related to treatment means for waste electrical and electronic equipment. Légifrance (french only).
– Sampling and characterization: Analysis of campaigns 2009-2010 – ADEME 2011 (french only).
– Annual report of the observatory on refrigerant and fluorinated gases. ADEME (french only).
– Table of Global Warming Potential values, IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, 2014.