At an estimated 5.4 million units, air conditioners are one of the most widely distributed home appliances in the United States this year. However, air conditioners, like all other equipment, have a finite lifespan, beyond which they become far too inefficient and environmentally destructive to continue working.
This holds especially true for pre-2000 models, which were not up to the same stringent manufacturing and production standards as we see today. This resulted in an overall lower useful life compared to modern air conditioners, leading to premature disposal. About nine million refrigerators/freezers, six million window air conditioning units, and nearly one million dehumidifiers are disposed of each year! While there are steps you can do to ensure your air conditioner lasts as long as possible, eventually it will need to be thrown away.
Disposing of old AC units is not without a catch, though. It’s not as easy as just putting it out on the curb and having the garbage man take it away. If you understand how an air conditioner works, you’ll understand why disposing of one must adhere to such strict laws. This is because the refrigerant plays such a crucial role in the cooling process.
Just to sum things up, it’s not okay to throw away your air conditioner with the rest of your garbage, therefore it’s important to know what steps to take when disposing of it.
Do you need AC disposal information? Let’s go into the specifics now!
Why Do We Need to Be Careful About Air Conditioner Disposal?
Perhaps you’re wondering why it’s forbidden to dispose of old air conditioners in the trash. What is it about the refrigerant that is so dangerous?
The solution to this problem is straightforward. You’ve probably been familiar with the acronyms HCFC, HFC, and CFC (CFC). Greenhouse gases are what make up the refrigerants in air conditioners. These gases are particularly detrimental to the environment because, with the exception of HFC, they all contribute to ozone depletion. Because of the leakage of these refrigerants, dumping your air conditioners in a landfill will hasten the ozone layer’s depletion and accelerate global warming.
But what, exactly, are the consequences of these gases on the planet’s ecosystem? One expert has calculated that the distance one may drive in a car after releasing the refrigerant from a single air conditioner is 3,000 miles.
Significant effort has been made to lessen the negative impacts of refrigerants, but more work has to be done. Most modern air conditioners utilize a refrigerant known as R-410A. This class of refrigerant does not deplete the ozone layer, but it does add to global warming due to its influence on the atmosphere. Previously, models used R-22, a significantly more powerful refrigerant. The use of R-22 is being phased out in favor of R-410A since it contains compounds that deplete the ozone layer.
How to Correctly Dispose of an Air Conditioner?
All types of air conditioners, including window units and mini-splits, follow similar steps when it comes time to dispose of them. They also vary depending on where you are. However, rest certain that wherever you choose to have your air conditioner disposed of, it will be handled by trained experts. Don’t try to save money by doing the work on your own time at home; doing so could result in significant harm and environmental damage.
Here are several options for getting rid of your old AC unit:
Send It off to a Scrap Yard
Recycling centers that are EPA-approved dispose of old air conditioners. To learn more about where to dispose of your old appliances, you can check with your municipality’s website or peruse the EPA’s list of RAD partners. These locations have been vetted by the EPA and have been found to be suitable for waste disposal.
Search for a Rebate Program
Most state and municipal governments now provide financial incentives for residents to trade in their inefficient air conditioners for better models. As a result, you can avoid spending any more money than necessary on a replacement system, and your old air conditioner can be disposed of in an environmentally responsible manner. Encourage eco-friendly practices like recycling and proper disposal with this program. Get in touch with your local electricity provider for details on any regionally-tailored programs that may be available to you.
Consult Your Local Disposal Agency
Disposal options for obsolete air conditioners are typically communicated to the public by your local sanitation department. They might have specially trained personnel and a designated spot for disposing of old air conditioners. Alternately, they may have a working relationship with a separate firm that handles the task on their behalf. In any situation involving sanitation, it’s best to double verify with the proper authorities.
Opt for a Retailer Exchange
In some cases, you can outsource the work to retailers and distributors. When purchasing a replacement air conditioner, some stores may provide a rebate in exchange for your old unit, similar to what you could receive from your local utility company. The retailer must then arrange for the appliance’s proper disposal.
Go Environmentally Friendly & Recycle
Maybe the best course of action. Donate your used AC unit to a good cause. They would be overjoyed to have a working air conditioner for far less than the cost of a brand new one. You can obtain tax write-offs and the good feeling that comes from helping a worthy charity when you donate.
Refurbish Your Old Air Conditioner
Instead of throwing away your air conditioner, there is another way to get it working like new again. You could seek the advice of a reliable repairman and get your AC unit serviced. Common issues with older air conditioners may tempt you to consider a replacement. That can put a serious dent in your savings and cost as much as $1,000.
It is common practice to replace the refrigerant, seal any leaks in the piping, repair the condenser fans and fins, and give the entire system a thorough cleaning when refurbishing an older air conditioner.
However, it is important to remember that air conditioners produced prior to 2010 cannot be serviced because they use the now-banned R-22 line of refrigerant. Due to incompatibility between the two systems, retrofitting an older air conditioner to use R-410A is also out of the question.
Make Your Air Conditioner Smart!
Adding a smart AC controller, like the Cielo Breez Plus or Cielo Breez Eco, is a necessary step in bringing an older air conditioner into the modern day. Smart controllers for air conditioners enable for convenient remote control from anywhere in the world using a smartphone. This allows you to control your air conditioning based on environmental factors like as humidity and temperature from anywhere in the world, set schedules for the week, and even geofence your home.
Further, by keeping tabs on past energy consumption and doing an audit of current patterns, you might cut your bills by as much as 25 percent.
Be a Responsible Citizen!
Maintaining peak performance and maximizing the lifespan of your air conditioner are both worthy goals. But eventually, as with any appliance, it will need to be thrown away. There needs to be a range of options for those looking to get rid of their old air conditioners. But regardless of the path taken, we must be aware of the consequences our lifestyle has on the planet and do what we can to mitigate them. It is crucial to dispose of old air conditioners in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations to lessen the negative impact they have on the environment.
Why A/Cs Need to be Disposed of Correctly
About 65 pounds of plastic, copper, aluminum, stainless steel, and other non-biodegradable elements make up an air conditioner before it is thrown away. The paper filter in your air conditioner may be the only component made from a renewable resource.
The environmental impact of these substances is significant. However, refrigerants, which are invisible to the naked eye, are the most dangerous component of air conditioners.
Gases used in air conditioning systems are known to be hazardous to the environment because of their refrigerant properties. Many of these CFCs are greenhouse gases that have been connected to global warming and ozone depletion. 1
Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are a particularly dangerous refrigerant used in older air conditioners. In 1995, production of these was discontinued. In its place, halogenated chlorofluorocarbons like HCFC-22 (also known as R-22) have become standard in the industry.
In 2010, the beginning of the end for R-22 began. In 2020, the last R-22-based air conditioner was manufactured. However, R-22 refrigerant is used in many currently functioning air conditioners.
Even R410a, the newest and supposedly safest refrigerant, can do damage to your health. While one kilogram of R410a has the same environmental impact as driving your automobile for six months, it is still safer than the earlier R22 refrigerants. 2
What’s the Law?
The United States government has made it unlawful to throw away air conditioners without first recovering the refrigerants in an effort to slow down ozone depletion and reduce the effects of climate change. 3
The machinery used to recycle the refrigerants must be up to par in terms of efficiency. Reclaiming refrigerants is possible for anyone with the necessary technical knowledge; HVAC specialists are not required.
The proper disposal of air conditioners may be subject to additional regulations imposed by local authorities.
Air Conditioner Disposal Options
Responsible Appliance Disposal (RAD) Program
Companies and organizations that are part of the EPA’s Responsible Appliance Disposal (RAD) program have committed to recycling large equipment like air conditioners in an environmentally responsible manner.
The RAD program of the EPA now includes 77 facilities across 32 different states. These establishments have the necessary training and apparatus to recover refrigerants in a secure manner.
Air Conditioner Bounty Program
If you own an air conditioner or refrigerator, perhaps your utility company offers a turn-in or bounty program. Utilities may offer rebates, discounts, or small cash payments to customers who recycle old, energy-wasting appliances. Newer, more energy-efficient models that qualify for the EPA’s EnergyStar program are sometimes eligible for these incentives.
Consult Local Disposal Agency
Appliances, including air conditioners, may be collected from the curb as part of a recycling program in some areas. The commercial companies handle the garbage disposal for the cities. Either the units will be transferred to poor countries for reuse, or the chain will continue to facilities that safely dispose of refrigerants.
About 40% of all used appliances are sold on the secondary market. 4
Local Debris Hauling Company
Many waste removal services will remove the air conditioner together with the rest of the junk from your driveway. However, they might just throw the equipment away.
Only a select few waste removal companies will truly recycle and dispose of your air conditioner in accordance with all state and federal regulations. It’s a good idea to double-check their websites and confirm through phone that they intend to follow through on this promise.
Donate Air Conditioner
Donating a used AC unit in good operating condition to a family in need is a great idea. Heat-related illnesses are more common in the elderly. Homeless shelters, numbering 5, may also require portable air conditioners.
You can either make a direct donation or contribute through a local organization that helps coordinate humanitarian efforts. Churches and other charitable organizations may also have information about folks who need use some assistance. Don’t give away air conditioners that used R-22 refrigerants before 2010, or you’ll be spreading the problem of these potentially dangerous older refrigerants on to the next person. 6
What About HVAC Systems?
It’s one thing to take care of the disposal of a window or portable air conditioner on your own. However, what about multi-zone mini-splits or large central air conditioners? Do HVAC businesses dispose of outdated equipment in an environmentally safe way?
Indeed, they do. As a minimum, they need to be. Section 608 of the Clean Air Act mandates that all refrigerants be recovered by HVAC businesses or their subcontractors. 7 Organizations should maintain thorough records for EPA certification purposes.
As a matter of fact, businesses can profit from selling their recovered refrigerant to a reclaimer that has been approved by the EPA.
The subject of how to properly dispose of an air conditioner is a common one. You really only need to be aware of a handful of details.
Depending on your location and preferences, you can recycle or otherwise responsibly discard your air conditioner in a number of ways. You can’t just throw it on the sidewalk or the street.
Air conditioners are fragile appliances that contain potentially dangerous coolants and must be disposed of in a special way.