Bullk waste management / HVAC / refrigerant recycling

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John Bingham
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Re: Bullk waste management / HVAC / refrigerant recycling

Post by John Bingham » Tue Nov 19, 2019 9:03 pm

dorsalfin1234 wrote:
Sun Nov 17, 2019 11:25 am
I'm interested in how refrigerators and air conditioners are disposed of - short version, the refrigerant they contain is a potent greenhouse gas and usually the refrigerant is emitted into the atmosphere when the device is sold for scrap. So I'm trying to learn about the bulk waste ecosystem in Cambodia and where these devices go when they are thrown out. Specifically I'm interested in meeting people who work either in waste management (industry, policy or NGO), or HVAC folks who might do repair on old ACs / refrigerator systems and be knowledgable about where those devices end up.
I would be pretty certain that they just tear the metal out and zero thought goes into the gases. This is a country where "recyclers" or Hay-Ji will burn the plastic off wiring and sit around in the black fumes without a care. When I came here first that was still one of the main ways of disposing of garbage in the capital. There wasn't as much plastic around then and the fires kept the mosquitoes away. I'm working on a litter-reduction campaign at the moment but I don't have any personal experience in waste management. I could show you how the waste management works though, tour the dumps, a few recycling depots, the wastelands on the edges of the city that look like smouldering garbage hell, the stinking canals that snake their way down through the city, the poor communities that survive on the edges. Hit me up when you're over and I'll do my best to help.
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Re: Bullk waste management / HVAC / refrigerant recycling

Post by IraHayes » Tue Nov 19, 2019 9:33 pm

John Bingham wrote:
Tue Nov 19, 2019 9:03 pm
dorsalfin1234 wrote:
Sun Nov 17, 2019 11:25 am
I'm interested in how refrigerators and air conditioners are disposed of - short version, the refrigerant they contain is a potent greenhouse gas and usually the refrigerant is emitted into the atmosphere when the device is sold for scrap. So I'm trying to learn about the bulk waste ecosystem in Cambodia and where these devices go when they are thrown out. Specifically I'm interested in meeting people who work either in waste management (industry, policy or NGO), or HVAC folks who might do repair on old ACs / refrigerator systems and be knowledgable about where those devices end up.
I would be pretty certain that they just tear the metal out and zero thought goes into the gases. This is a country where "recyclers" or Hay-Ji will burn the plastic off wiring and sit around in the black fumes without a care. When I came here first that was still one of the main ways of disposing of garbage in the capital. There wasn't as much plastic around then and the fires kept the mosquitoes away. I'm working on a litter-reduction campaign at the moment but I don't have any personal experience in waste management. I could show you how the waste management works though, tour the dumps, a few recycling depots, the wastelands on the edges of the city that look like smouldering garbage hell, the stinking canals that snake their way down through the city, the poor communities that survive on the edges. Hit me up when you're over and I'll do my best to help.
well bugger me!
The lucky bastard not only found someone with a "bit of knowledge" of the subject but the FREE TIME!! to help.

Quick.. do a lottery ticket. You could be on a roll here!
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Re: Bullk waste management / HVAC / refrigerant recycling

Post by monomial » Tue Nov 19, 2019 10:06 pm

Whether or not the refrigerant is recycled I would suspect is mainly going to depend on who does the recycling. Refrigerant is expensive, so if a technician pulls the unit and replaces it with a new model, then it very likely will have the refrigerant removed before it is scrapped. If the unit is pulled, but not as part of an upgrade, then likely no thought will be given to the refrigerant. But honestly, that is a rare case and I would actually be surprised if there are many instances where refrigerants from air conditioners are not properly recycled.

Refrigerators on the other hand, are likely disposed of in a much more carefree style. The reason is simple. A refrigerator does not require a tech to install it. When the refrigerator breaks, it is easy for anyone to throw it out and buy a new one. When an air conditioner breaks however, it needs to be installed, and the guy doing the installation has a financial incentive to recycle the refrigerant from the old unit. Especially if it is an old unit with R12 or R22, which is very expensive.

So if I were you and looking for areas to investigate, I would concentrate on refrigerators. Most air conditioners are going to be dry by the time they reach a scrapyard.

Be aware though, appliance repair is a thriving industry in the KoW. People troll the scrapyards looking for anything that can be fixed. I think you will find it pretty rare that something is consigned to scrap without having been picked over by someone who knows how to extract all the valuable parts, and that most certainly includes refrigerants.
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Re: Bullk waste management / HVAC / refrigerant recycling

Post by John Bingham » Tue Nov 19, 2019 10:50 pm

Excuse my ignorance, but how are these gases collected or re-used? I was under the impression that they just leaked out as soon as there was a crack somewhere?
Silence, exile, and cunning.
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Re: Bullk waste management / HVAC / refrigerant recycling

Post by IraHayes » Wed Nov 20, 2019 7:50 am

monomial wrote:
Tue Nov 19, 2019 10:06 pm
Whether or not the refrigerant is recycled I would suspect is mainly going to depend on who does the recycling. Refrigerant is expensive, so if a technician pulls the unit and replaces it with a new model, then it very likely will have the refrigerant removed before it is scrapped. If the unit is pulled, but not as part of an upgrade, then likely no thought will be given to the refrigerant. But honestly, that is a rare case and I would actually be surprised if there are many instances where refrigerants from air conditioners are not properly recycled.

Refrigerators on the other hand, are likely disposed of in a much more carefree style. The reason is simple. A refrigerator does not require a tech to install it. When the refrigerator breaks, it is easy for anyone to throw it out and buy a new one. When an air conditioner breaks however, it needs to be installed, and the guy doing the installation has a financial incentive to recycle the refrigerant from the old unit. Especially if it is an old unit with R12 or R22, which is very expensive.

So if I were you and looking for areas to investigate, I would concentrate on refrigerators. Most air conditioners are going to be dry by the time they reach a scrapyard.

Be aware though, appliance repair is a thriving industry in the KoW. People troll the scrapyards looking for anything that can be fixed. I think you will find it pretty rare that something is consigned to scrap without having been picked over by someone who knows how to extract all the valuable parts, and that most certainly includes refrigerants.
Certainly gives the guy plenty of research work to follow what happens to both AC units and refrigerators once they are replaced.
I would agree with your assessment though and it would be nice if the OP were to post the occasional update as to how his research is going and what he discovers.
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Re: Bullk waste management / HVAC / refrigerant recycling

Post by dorsalfin1234 » Wed Nov 20, 2019 9:31 am

John Bingham wrote:
Tue Nov 19, 2019 9:03 pm
dorsalfin1234 wrote:
Sun Nov 17, 2019 11:25 am
I'm interested in how refrigerators and air conditioners are disposed of - short version, the refrigerant they contain is a potent greenhouse gas and usually the refrigerant is emitted into the atmosphere when the device is sold for scrap. So I'm trying to learn about the bulk waste ecosystem in Cambodia and where these devices go when they are thrown out. Specifically I'm interested in meeting people who work either in waste management (industry, policy or NGO), or HVAC folks who might do repair on old ACs / refrigerator systems and be knowledgable about where those devices end up.
I would be pretty certain that they just tear the metal out and zero thought goes into the gases. This is a country where "recyclers" or Hay-Ji will burn the plastic off wiring and sit around in the black fumes without a care. When I came here first that was still one of the main ways of disposing of garbage in the capital. There wasn't as much plastic around then and the fires kept the mosquitoes away. I'm working on a litter-reduction campaign at the moment but I don't have any personal experience in waste management. I could show you how the waste management works though, tour the dumps, a few recycling depots, the wastelands on the edges of the city that look like smouldering garbage hell, the stinking canals that snake their way down through the city, the poor communities that survive on the edges. Hit me up when you're over and I'll do my best to help.
John, this is fantastic. Thanks for the info and the offer, I'd love to connect when I get in. I'll PM you when I arrive.
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Re: Bullk waste management / HVAC / refrigerant recycling

Post by dorsalfin1234 » Wed Nov 20, 2019 9:33 am

John Bingham wrote:
Tue Nov 19, 2019 10:50 pm
Excuse my ignorance, but how are these gases collected or re-used? I was under the impression that they just leaked out as soon as there was a crack somewhere?
They can be sold to reclaimers who purify it and can use it in new devices. In developed countries this is typically done with larger installations (like a large supermarket) where the economics are more obvious but not typically for consumer-size devices. Usually the devices fail for other reasons before the gases leak out.
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Re: Bullk waste management / HVAC / refrigerant recycling

Post by dorsalfin1234 » Wed Nov 20, 2019 9:41 am

monomial wrote:
Tue Nov 19, 2019 10:06 pm
Whether or not the refrigerant is recycled I would suspect is mainly going to depend on who does the recycling. Refrigerant is expensive, so if a technician pulls the unit and replaces it with a new model, then it very likely will have the refrigerant removed before it is scrapped. If the unit is pulled, but not as part of an upgrade, then likely no thought will be given to the refrigerant. But honestly, that is a rare case and I would actually be surprised if there are many instances where refrigerants from air conditioners are not properly recycled.

Refrigerators on the other hand, are likely disposed of in a much more carefree style. The reason is simple. A refrigerator does not require a tech to install it. When the refrigerator breaks, it is easy for anyone to throw it out and buy a new one. When an air conditioner breaks however, it needs to be installed, and the guy doing the installation has a financial incentive to recycle the refrigerant from the old unit. Especially if it is an old unit with R12 or R22, which is very expensive.

So if I were you and looking for areas to investigate, I would concentrate on refrigerators. Most air conditioners are going to be dry by the time they reach a scrapyard.

Be aware though, appliance repair is a thriving industry in the KoW. People troll the scrapyards looking for anything that can be fixed. I think you will find it pretty rare that something is consigned to scrap without having been picked over by someone who knows how to extract all the valuable parts, and that most certainly includes refrigerants.
This is super interesting and thanks for posting. Few thoughts:
  • When I said ACs I could have been more clear. I'm talking about independent devices like window units, not larger installations. Agree that central air would be a different story.
  • Yep, the older CFCs and HCFCs like R12 and R22 are pricier. The newer generation (HFCs) are quite cheap to produce though. The economics likely only make sense if you can sell carbon offsets based on this, but that's a whole different part of the story...
  • You may be right that these are already being recycled - I hope that's true!
You seem quite knowledgeable about this - what's your connection to this topic? I'd love to meet up and talk more if you're willing!
dorsalfin1234
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Re: Bullk waste management / HVAC / refrigerant recycling

Post by dorsalfin1234 » Wed Nov 20, 2019 9:46 am

IraHayes wrote:
Wed Nov 20, 2019 7:50 am
I would agree with your assessment though and it would be nice if the OP were to post the occasional update as to how his research is going and what he discovers.
Will do!
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Re: Bullk waste management / HVAC / refrigerant recycling

Post by monomial » Wed Nov 20, 2019 2:30 pm

dorsalfin1234 wrote:
Wed Nov 20, 2019 9:41 am
monomial wrote:
Tue Nov 19, 2019 10:06 pm
Whether or not the refrigerant is recycled I would suspect is mainly going to depend on who does the recycling. Refrigerant is expensive, so if a technician pulls the unit and replaces it with a new model, then it very likely will have the refrigerant removed before it is scrapped. If the unit is pulled, but not as part of an upgrade, then likely no thought will be given to the refrigerant. But honestly, that is a rare case and I would actually be surprised if there are many instances where refrigerants from air conditioners are not properly recycled.

Refrigerators on the other hand, are likely disposed of in a much more carefree style. The reason is simple. A refrigerator does not require a tech to install it. When the refrigerator breaks, it is easy for anyone to throw it out and buy a new one. When an air conditioner breaks however, it needs to be installed, and the guy doing the installation has a financial incentive to recycle the refrigerant from the old unit. Especially if it is an old unit with R12 or R22, which is very expensive.

So if I were you and looking for areas to investigate, I would concentrate on refrigerators. Most air conditioners are going to be dry by the time they reach a scrapyard.

Be aware though, appliance repair is a thriving industry in the KoW. People troll the scrapyards looking for anything that can be fixed. I think you will find it pretty rare that something is consigned to scrap without having been picked over by someone who knows how to extract all the valuable parts, and that most certainly includes refrigerants.
This is super interesting and thanks for posting. Few thoughts:
  • When I said ACs I could have been more clear. I'm talking about independent devices like window units, not larger installations. Agree that central air would be a different story.
  • Yep, the older CFCs and HCFCs like R12 and R22 are pricier. The newer generation (HFCs) are quite cheap to produce though. The economics likely only make sense if you can sell carbon offsets based on this, but that's a whole different part of the story...
  • You may be right that these are already being recycled - I hope that's true!
You seem quite knowledgeable about this - what's your connection to this topic? I'd love to meet up and talk more if you're willing!
Thanks for the clarification. Keep in mind though that nearly all air conditioning systems sold in Cambodia are ductless split systems. There are no window units. When you can have a system "professionally" installed including all copper tubing and refrigerant for $50 - $100, there is no market for less efficient and pricier DIY installs. So basically, all air conditioners are professionally installed and serviced. I use the term "professionally" very loosely here. Those who understand Cambodia will understand why.

With regard to price, even R134 is sold at around $6/kg. though. Stop and consider that even this "cheap" fluid is closing in on an entire day's pay for the guys who are doing this work. How much do you earn in a day? Would you let something worth an entire day's effort simply evaporate into the air? Lots of assumptions change when you realize how expensive things are in Cambodia relative to labour. No carbon offsets are necessary in this context, although if you can find a way to give away free money I'm sure you'll have plenty of interested takers.

Good luck in your search. Make sure to report back and let us know what you discover.
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