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US EPA now authorised to ban disposable refrigerant cylinders, shot cans

Now that Congress has passed the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has authority to force a production phase down of non-refillable refrigerant cylinders by 2025.

The EPA has decided that the single-use canisters can contribute to HFCs leaking into the atmosphere and contributing to climate change. 

According to the EPA, non-refillable cylinders are disposed of with about 450g of residual refrigerant remaining inside, known as the ‘heel’, which can be slowly emitted over time as it leaks out in landfill or released instantly when the cylinder is crushed as part of the metal recycling process. 

Industry standards state that HFCs must be vacuumed out of containers prior to recycling, although most are not as they are cheap and untraceable, often with no means nor incentive to return.

The EPA estimates that replacing single-use cylinders will stop approximately 29,500,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCO2e) emissions between 2022 and 2050. It has ruled that the production of one-shot canisters must end by January 1 2025 and sales of these products will not be permitted after January 1 2027.

Many industry groups plus a cylinder manufacturer believe the EPA has gone too far, filing lawsuits with the US Court of Appeals to overturn the ban.

Litigants include HARDI (Heating, Air-conditioning and Refrigeration Distributors International), ACCA (Air Conditioning Contractors of America), PHCC, (Plumbing-Heating Cooling Contractors) and Worthington Industries.

Worthington is the last remaining manufacturer of non-refillable canisters and employs 500 people.

The associations are challenging the EPA ruling that would ban the single use canister made by Worthington Industries and widely used to recharge air-conditioners.

Their petition asks the court to overturn the ban, arguing that the EPA incorrectly evaluated it based on a European-designed canister. Fundamentally it is believed that the EPA lacks the legal authority to ban non-reusable canisters.

The Worthington Industries petition includes as a solution a modification to the valve in its non-refillable canisters, which makes it harder to vent refrigerant to the atmosphere and removes the need to build a new factory for the production of reusable canisters.

Industry groups claim the ban will force the use of much more expensive and burdensome canisters, pushing up costs for consumers as well as causing supply chain disruptions during the transition period and potentially beyond.

From an environmental and sustainability perspective, transitioning the US to reusable cylinders looks to be an inevitable short-term pain, albeit for long-term gain.

In Australia and Europe, reusable cylinders represent business as usual and the local experience could provide a roadmap for successful transition in the US.

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