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Environ Sci Technol. 2018 Jun 5;52(11):6350-6356. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.7b05987. Epub 2018 May 22.

Chilling Prospect: Climate Change Effects of Mismanaged Refrigerants in China.

Author information

School of Civil Engineering , Shenzhen University , Shenzhen 518060 , China.
Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering , Yale University , New Haven , Connecticut 06511 , United States.
SDU Life Cycle Engineering, Department of Chemical Engineering, Biotechnology, and Environmental Technology , University of Southern Denmark , Odense 5230 , Denmark.
School of Environment , Tsinghua University , Beijing 100084 , China.
China National Resources Recycling Association, Beijing 100084 , China.
State Key Laboratory of Environmental Criteria and Risk Assessment , Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences , Beijing 100084 , China.
School of Architecture and Built Environment , The University of Adelaide , Adelaide , South Australia 5005 , Australia.
GEM Co., Ltd., Fengcheng 331100 , China.


The global community has responded to the dual threats of ozone depletion and climate change from refrigerant emissions (e.g., chlorofluorocarbons, CFCs, and hydrofluorocarbons, HFCs) in refrigerators and air conditioners (RACs) by agreeing to phase out the production of the most damaging chemicals and replacing them with substitutes. Since these refrigerants are "banked" in products during their service life, they will continue to impact our environment for decades to come if they are released due to mismanagement at the end of life. Addressing such long-term impacts of refrigerants requires a dynamic understanding of the RACs' life cycle, which was largely overlooked in previous studies. Based on field surveys and a dynamic model, we reveal the lingering ozone depletion potential (ODP) and significant global warming potential (GWP) of scrap refrigerants in China, the world's largest producer (62%) and consumer (46%) of RACs in 2015, which comes almost entirely from air conditioners rather than refrigerators. If the use and waste management of RACs continue with the current trend, the total GWP of scrap refrigerants in China will peak by 2025 at a level of 135.2 ± 18.9 Mt CO2e (equal to approximately 1.2% ± 0.2% of China's total greenhouse gas emissions or the national total of either The Netherlands and Czech Republic in 2015). Our results imply an urgent need for improving the recycling and waste management of RACs in China.


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