New Zealand headed for major shift in action on climate change
By Darren Patterson, Synthetic Refrigerant Stewardship project manager
When it comes to tackling climate change, managing synthetic refrigerant gasses is the most effective but probably least known thing we can do.
The announcement by Associate Minister for the Environment, Eugenie Sage last week, that consultation will begin ahead of the possible declaration of refrigerants and other synthetic greenhouse gases as priority products under the Waste Minimisation Act 2008 is huge.
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In fact, the announcement, which also includes proposed priority product status for tyres, e-waste, farm plastic, agrichemicals and their containers, and packaging, is the biggest this country has seen in terms of waste.
The importance of properly managing synthetic refrigerant gases – perfluorocarbons (PFC) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) – is well understood but not widely known. These gases are rated among the most effective at trapping heat in the earth’s atmosphere; thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide with respect to their global warming potential.
This, plus their widespread usage – in everything from home heat pumps to commercial freezing works – and their relatively long lifespan in the atmosphere, means properly managing them is a vital way to take action on climate change.
However there has been action worldwide. In 2016 an international agreement was reached to phase down HFCs, which the New Zealand Government adopted. This agreement (the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol) requires the phasing down of HFCs worldwide from the beginning of 2020 and to cease importing HFCs from 2036.
In New Zealand we also have a voluntary product stewardship scheme for refrigerants, called RECOVERY, which has been running since 1993. However, being voluntary not everyone is involved, resulting in an uneven playing field in the industry.
But, if refrigerants are declared a priority product all of industry will have to take part, levelling the playing field and making the resulting regulated product stewardship scheme more effective than its voluntary predecessor.
Again, members of the refrigerant industry are already ahead of the curve, having set up a Working Group in February this year to move towards a regulated product stewardship scheme. The project is being managed by 3R Group and has the support of RECOVERY as well as numerous industry associations, ranging from motor vehicles to climate control and refrigeration.
A priority product has never been declared in New Zealand before, despite legislation for it being in existence for over a decade. We are therefore headed for what should be a major turning point in the way we make and deal with our waste.