HFC Phase Down: The Role of Refrigerants in NYS Homes and Businesses

by Michael Helme, New Yorkers for Cool Refrigerant Management

So, your refrigerator isn’t getting as cold as it used to, and you’re thinking it’s going to be less
expensive to replace it than to get it fixed. You go to your favorite big box store, look for fridges that are the right color and have the features you want, hopefully check to see which are Energy Star appliances, then from this short list start comparing prices and looking for sales.

Hold on a minute!

We are all concerned about climate change, so you should also look at what refrigerant is used in your next refrigerator. This information is not listed on spec sheets, in user manuals or on websites, and the sales staff on the floor is unlikely to know about this. But if you open the door of a refrigerator and snap a picture of the specs plate, you can look closely at the picture and see if it uses R-134a, a refrigerant currently being phased out by an international treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (that’s the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol), or if it uses R-600, a new refrigerant in the United States that has been used abroad for many years. As far as greenhouse gases, on a 20-year basis, R-134A is about 3830 times as powerful as CO2, while R-600 has zero global warming potential.

If you are concerned about climate change, you might consider actually getting one of the older kinds of refrigerators, knowing that you will responsibly take care of the refrigerants when the appliance reaches the end of its useful life, and leave the new refrigerators for people who are unconcerned about climate change and may mismanage their appliance when it ultimately goes kaput. (Actually, most electric utilities throughout New York will offer customers an incentive fee of $25 or $50 if they give up an old refrigerator or freezer that is still working, so please hunt down those program details for that old refrigerator you are replacing.)

If these suggestions for picking the most environmentally friendly refrigerant seem too wonky or troublesome to remember, please send a thought of thanks to the New York State DEC, which is finalizing proposed rules for managing refrigerants (that’s in Proposed Part 494 of 6 NYCRR). Among other things, the proposed rules say that if a refrigerator is manufactured after January 1, 2022 with R-134a (the older refrigerant), it cannot be sold in the State of New York. But Part 494 isn’t just about residential refrigerators. It also covers many kinds of equipment used throughout the food and grocery industries, which use several times more refrigerants than all of our consumer appliances use. It furthermore covers things like foams and aerosol propellants, which most consumers use without a second thought. These different items all have different implementation dates, but the basic story is the same: items produced after the implementation dates can no longer be sold in New York if they have the old refrigerants.

How do manufacturers feel about this? The refrigerant and appliance manufacturers are already following rules like this for most of their international market, and this is what they agreed to do back in 2016 in our country, so it is easy for them to go along. They would prefer that our whole country switch to the new refrigerants, but we all know the hangups in our federal government.

How do store owners feel about this? If they have old inventory, they’ll still be able to sell it, so old inventory creates no problems for them. And after the implementation dates they’ll have a wide variety of new models to choose from.

In summary, adopting Part 494 is a nice first step for the Empire State to reduce the intensive greenhouse gases produced by refrigerant emissions. In the rules themselves we see they are expected to reduce refrigerant emissions by 16%. While this is a good thing, other states like California and Vermont have mandates to cut their refrigerant emissions by at least 40% by 2030, and there are additional cost-effective measures New York State could adopt to make similar gains. Which brings to mind our state motto: “Excelsoir!” or “Ever Upward!”

Have you seen the sign-on letter from New Yorkers for Cool Refrigerant Management? It asks the DEC to adopt Part 494 as soon as possible and asks the Governor and the Legislature to get going on more refrigerant management measures. Please check out the letter and get your group to sign on.

Have questions about refrigerant management?
Check in with us: refrigs@sustainhv.org