Why do I write so much about refrigerant recovery and reclaim?

Well, when I was first appointed the chief editor of a national HVACR magazine back in the late 1980s, I accepted a commission from the Air Conditioning Contractors of America to look into the problem of refrigerant phase-outs, which really hadn’t happened yet.

And after getting into the ground-floor meetings of the refrigerant manufacturers and the Environmental Protection Agency, I started to realize the chlorine gas in CFC refrigerants such as R-12 and R-500 were, in fact, doing damage to the earth’s protective ozone layer (no, not “global warming” or “climate change”). So, I wrote the first of our industry’s series of articles about the subject, which ended up with me winning our nation’s highest trade-press journalism award and traveling around the country speaking to national groups about the subject.

Back then, the thought of phasing out benign HCFCs such as R-22 and R-123 seemed ridiculous (and still is), but many companies jumped on the bandwagon and started manufacturing refrigerant recycling machines. In fact, there were many small service-contracting companies that planned to make refrigerant recycling and conservation a mainstay of their business!

But then the EPA went and asked the refrigerant manufacturers what they thought about independent contractors doing their own recycling, which, heaven forbid, would result in decreased sales and a stabilization of refrigerant prices.

And what did they decide? The EPA passed a law (which had nothing to do with the environment) that forbids HVACR contractors from doing their own recycling in order to sell recovered refrigerant. Sales of refrigerant recycling machines came to an end and most contractors just started dumping refrigerant into the environment. Smooth move, EPA.

However, one portion of the EPA law that has been overlooked is that refrigerant recycling is allowed when the cleaned-up refrigerant is to be used at the same site. And this is what we all need to be taking a hard look at as R-22, the most-common residential air-conditioner refrigerant, is rapidly being phased out and will be gone by 2015.

Understand that almost all the refrigerant currently being dumped into the atmosphere can be recycled and reused! Yes, even after a bad compressor burnout. An old Carrier program that I once taught for them pointed out that the contaminants aren’t in the refrigerant, but in the compressor oil, which is mostly replaced when you change the compressor (you need to add filter-driers, though).

Just think of the advantage that purchasing a refrigerant recovery machine would bring for your contractor customers. Rather than playing games by replacing valuable HCFC refrigerants with HFC refrigerants that reduce system capacity by about 10% and will, in many cases, soon destroy the compressor, all they will have to do is clean up the refrigerant and put it back into same-site systems.

I know that, like the refrigerant manufacturers, your company is in the business of selling new refrigerants. So, why would you want to promote the sale of recycling machines?

  • Because sales of the machines and recovery drums also are profitable.
  • Because you will make the brand of equipment that you sold in the past (which used R-22) look much more reliable since there is no need to run out of refrigerant.

The only fly in this ointment is that most companies stopped manufacturing the machines when the EPA passed its law.

However, if you can convince your customers and the recovery-machine manufacturers that such a product is still needed (and it is), you can create your own exclusive market.