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Thursday, 10 January, 2002, 11:23 GMT
NI faces scrap fridge mountain
By BBC NI environment correspondent Mike McKimm

Northern Ireland is facing a refrigerator mountain.

Thousands of fridges and freezers have started to pile up in recycling points across the province as a new European directive banning the destruction of fridges containing CFCs came into force at the start of 2002.

The ozone-destroying gases are contained in the refrigerant and foam that are used to make a fridge and must now be removed using a special process.

The problem is that no facility exists in Northern Ireland to carry out this process and is unlikely to be available for up to a year.

Ultimately the fridges and freezers may have to be shipped back to England to be destroyed. But there are no facilities there either.

Councils can not afford to pay to dispose of fridges
Councils can not afford to pay to dispose of fridges

It seems that the government departments responsible for overseeing and implementing the new legislation were caught out by the sheer numbers.

Previously old fridges were either scrapped for their metal, crushed and buried in landfill or repaired and exported to places such as Africa.

None of these processes required any records to be kept, so no-one knew the numbers involved.

It was assumed that a few fridges were involved and could be stored somewhere, out of the way.

Many scrap fridges contain harmful CFC gases
Many scrap fridges contain harmful CFC gases

Officials are still trying to add up the numbers but already it is thought that across the UK, hundreds of thousands of fridges and freezers will be involved.

It is estimated that somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 units will be collected over 12 months in Northern Ireland.

The problem now facing the local councils is where to put them all. They have to apply for special planning permission to store them, and will have to obtain waste management licences, just to stack them in the corner of a yard.

No guidelines

The councils are not pleased about the way it has been handled.

They received no advice or warnings about the nature of the problem and two weeks after the regulations came into force, they still had not been briefed or been given any guidance on what to do.

For example, they have only just found out that they cannot stack the units more than two high, for safety reasons.

For some councils, the problem may become so critical that they will be forced to turn old fridges away.

History determines that these will find a hiding place over some hedge or down a river bank within 24 hours, and it will be the council's job to retrieve them.

No budget

No-one knows or even cares to estimate when the problem will be solved. Educated guesses suggest it could take 10 months to a year at least.

And there is an added cost - up to 50 a fridge.

So the next problem is who will pay for it all?

The councils cannot afford it and there is no budget allocated by the Northern Ireland Assembly to pay for it all.

BBC NI environment correspondent Mike McKimm:
"The province's local councils are facing the problem of what to do with tens of thousands of fridges"
See also:

05 Dec 01 | Northern Ireland
Public concern over rubbish
14 Jun 01 | Wales
40m to be spent on rubbish
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