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Friday, 23 November, 2001, 16:00 GMT
UK facing 'fridge crisis'
Fridges and freezers generic, BBC
About two million old fridges are collected from UK homes per year
Thousands of old fridges could soon be found littering streets and waste grounds across the UK, following the introduction of an EU directive controlling their disposal.

From midnight on 31 December, new regulations will mean that second-hand fridges cannot be disposed of until all the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) contained in them are removed.

Up until now, the CFCs found in the foam lining of fridges have not come under the ruling.


It might be best if you don't buy your new fridge just yet and wait until this problem has been sorted out

Spokesperson for Defra
But with no plant or mechanics available in the UK to take out the gases stored in this way, there is potential for a mountain of discarded fridges.

The new regulations apply to gases used as coolants in fridges and freezers, which if released into the atmosphere can damage the ozone layer.

The government has admitted it has no immediate solution to the "fridge crisis".

Retailers, who are already starting to stop their fridge-removal service for new customers, say the problem will escalate in the New Year - a peak selling time for new fridges.

'Don't buy a new fridge'

Currently around a couple of million old fridges are collected each year - one retailer alone takes 6,000 away per week.

A Spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: "We are hoping local authorities, retailers and scrap disposal professionals will work together to prevent this crisis happening.

"It might be best if you don't buy your new fridge just yet and wait until this problem has been sorted out," she added.

The advice provoked a comment from the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

Bill Moyes, BRC director general, said: "The retail sector is currently the one stable driver of growth in the UK economy. Retailers are appalled that government officials are now telling consumers to stop shopping."

Later the spokesperson said she wanted to make clear the government was not telling people "whether to buy fridges or not".

The problem of fridge disposal arises because there is no UK-based outlet for extracting the CFCs from foam lining in fridges.

Fridge extraction, BBC
Gases have always been removed from the fridge compressor
Sites in Germany, Holland and Sweden are said to be already at full capacity.

The Defra spokeswoman said the department had been speaking to three companies who were likely to start the new extracting process, hopefully by the spring of 2002.

Major retailers say they warned the government of an impending problem in March this year.

Currys, Debenhams and John Lewis have already withdrawn the service they used to provide to remove old fridges. Powerhouse, Iceland and others are likely to follow suit.


If it's down to some people to contact their local council instead, many people don't bother, so you could find a situation where fridges are left dumped

Lesley Smith, Currys
Lesley Smith, spokeswoman for Currys electrical retailers, said they were in a Catch 22 situation.

Storage problem

"Contractors take the fridges from us and dispose or recycle them but they have given us notice that they can no longer take them."

Legally, only councils can store fridges for longer than 28 days and they charge for the service.

"If it's down to some people to contact their local council instead, many people don't bother, so you could find a situation where fridges are left dumped," said Ms Smith.

She was sceptical about a solution to the problem being found by the spring. Currys estimate it could take up to 10 months before the new CFC extracting process could start.

See also:

05 Nov 01 | Scotland
Scotland warned of 'fridge mountain'
30 Apr 00 | Sci/Tech
Scaling the electro-scrap mountain
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