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Better Quality Assurance For Disposal CFCs And Other Ozone Depleting Substances

Closing the gap.
by Staff Writers
Luxemburg (SPX) Feb 21, 2011
Although the treatment of waste refrigeration equipment containing CFCs has been an integral part of the European waste management sector for more than twenty years, another major source of CFCs from waste products has been largely ignored. In the 1970s climatically harmful CFCs and other ozone depleting substances (ODSs) began to be used not only in refrigeration and cooling systems, but also and possibly to a greater extent as foam blowing agents in the production of polymer foams. CFCs and other ODSs were used in the manufacture of countless products, particularly in insulating foams such as the polyurethane foams used in the construction industry.

he long lifetimes of these products means that many of them are still in use - and the CFCs/ODSs they contain have the potential to cause significant climate damage if released into the environment. For well over 85 years, the RAL Institute - officially known as the German Institute for Quality Assurance and Certification and based in St. Augustin, near Bonn - has been responsible for the creation of more than 160 quality marks. Its most recent addition is a comprehensive quality assurance scheme for the environmentally sound recovery of CFC-containing foams.

In 1998, the RAL Institute established the groundbreaking GZ-728 quality mark 'Demanufacture of Refrigeration Equipment Containing CFCs'. In the thirteen years since the introduction of the GZ-728 quality mark, climate protection has become a top priority for the numerous fridge recycling companies that comply with the RAL quality assurance requirements. Compliance with the GZ-728 QA scheme is monitored by the RAL Quality Assurance Association for the Demanufacture of Refrigeration Equipment [RAL-Gutegemeinschaft Ruckproduktion von Kuhlgeraten e.V.].

Applying the GZ-728 QA scheme to the treatment of end-of-life refrigeration appliances ensures that the CFCs from these waste products end up where they belong - in special facilities where they are destroyed in an environmentally safe way. As is well known, CFCs are not only intimately involved in the destruction of the Earth's ozone layer, they also contribute significantly to the greenhouse effect. It has been calculated that the quantity of CFC in a typical waste household refrigeration appliance has the same global warming potential as about 3000 kilograms of CO2.

The numbers of CFC-containing refrigeration appliances still in use can be estimated quite accurately. However, no such assessment is possible for building foams and other insulating materials containing CFCs and other ODSs. Experts have conjectured that these materials represent a CFC/ODS bank of even greater size than that associated with end-of-life refrigeration equipment and that the extremely high global warming potential of these gases makes it essential that these waste products are subjected to proper recovery procedures.

As in fridge recycling operations, there has to be zero tolerance when it comes to possible CFC losses during the treatment process. This in turn places high demands on the treatment plant used if such climate protection goals are to be met.

It seems likely that a large proportion of the polymer foams being disposed of at the present time undergo treatment that leads to the release of very significant quantities of the climatically hazardous CFCs/ODSs into the environment.

Appropriate measures need to be introduced to prevent this situation from continuing. CFC-blown foams must be therefore be disposed of in a way that ensures that CFCs cannot enter the atmosphere.

European Regulation (EC) No. 1005/2009 on substances that deplete the ozone layer, which came into force last year, includes provisions on the environmentally and climatically compatible retrieval of ODS from products and their subsequent ultimate destruction. According to RAL, reliable technical standards need to be established if the challenges arising from the new European regulation are to be met.

The RAL Institute took up this challenge early and with the publication of its new quality assurance specifications GZ-729 on 26th January it has become the first standards organization to present a detailed quality assurance scheme with quality requirements that are realistic and achievable in practice. The full title of the new GZ-729 quality assurance scheme now being unveiled to the international public is: 'Quality assurance and test specifications for the demanufacture of foam products containing ozone-depleting substances'.

In addition to chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the term 'ozone depleting substances' also covers all other controlled substances listed in the Montreal Protocol and in European Regulation (EC) No. 1005/2009. The new GZ-729 quality assurance scheme and the associated quality mark will be managed by the RAL Quality Assurance Association for the Demanufacture of Refrigeration Equipment, which has been managing the related RAL GZ-728 quality assurance scheme and quality mark since 1998.

The new quality assurance and test specifications cover the collection, storage and treatment of polymer foam products containing ozone-depleting substances and their preparation prior to recovery or disposal.

At the core of RAL GZ-729 is an extensive chapter on the testing of the performance criteria of specialized treatment plants. By using clearly defined test procedures the ability of the treatment plants to remove CFCs/ODSs from the waste products can be quantified. Equal weight is given to the annual plant performance audits and to the continuous day-to-day monitoring of all the plant's material input and output streams.

Recycling companies whose operations conform with the requirements of the new quality assurance scheme ensure that at least 90 % of the CFCs/ODSs contained in the products they treat are captured before being sent for final destruction. Each recycling company undergoes annual testing by independent auditors who determine whether all the quality assurance criteria have been met.

The results of the performance audit are then submitted to the RAL Quality Assurance Association's independent Quality Committee. If the committee accepts the results, the company is awarded the RAL GZ-729 quality mark. Recycling plants whose technology is unable to meet the requisite quality standard are not eligible to hold the quality mark.

With the publication of the new quality assurance and test specifications for the demanufacture of foam products containing ozone-depleting substances, the RAL Institute has added a further chapter in the continuing success story of the RAL quality marks. There are currently more than 160 RAL quality marks covering thousands of different products and services.

The quality marks are awarded by over 130 RAL quality assurance associations representing around nine thousand member companies from all sectors of the economy both in Germany and abroad.

The new RAL quality mark offers consumers clear guidance and protection in choosing the correct waste treatment and disposal channel. For consumers, official bodies and agencies, companies and organizations with responsibility for waste disposal and management issues, the RAL name means that they can be sure of expert advice and assistance, high quality technical equipment and facilities, safety, user-friendliness and cost efficiency. Once again, RAL is helping to ensure that important environmental and climate protection goals are being met.

The GZ-729 'Quality assurance and test specifications for the demanufacture of foam products containing ozone-depleting substances' are available on request from the RAL Quality Assurance Association.

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