The proposals come almost two years after the European Commission issued a Recommendation on the reduction of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) usage in the refrigeration industry. One step urged by the instrument was that Member States "use their best endeavours" to "introduce measures with a view to phasing out the use of disposable CFC containers."
Since then, most EC countries have banned the supply of refrigerant in such containers, and the UK's two CFC producers have undertaken not to trade in them.
However, imports of these products have risen rapidly from a negligible share in 1990 to hold a 10% share of the UK refrigerant market today, the DoE says. This is despite another clause in the EC Recommendation urging the refrigeration industry to "take all practicable measures" to return spent CFC refrigerant for reclamation.
The use of disposable containers is environmentally unsound for two reasons. First, spent CFCs are normally sent for recovery back along the distribution chain in refillable containers. This is not possible with disposables.
Secondly, after disposable containers are emptied, the "heel" of gas remaining is deliberately vented to atmosphere for safety reasons before the containers are destroyed. With refillables this is not a problem because the product is retained in the container as it is returned for refilling.
The proposed ban would apply to specified refrigerants in containers with an internal volume of more than 1.4 litres should be banned. The refrigerants concerned include the HCFCs - products with a smaller ozone depletion capacity than the CFCs - as well as CFCs.
For reasons which are not explained, the list also includes several HFCs. These have no ozone depletion capacity, and are set to replace both CFCs and HCFCs in refrigeration applications. It may be that the DoE's intention is to encourage recycling of these products from the outset.