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UNEP advises on dealing with seized refrigerant

FRANCE: With European authorities cracking down on illegal refrigerants, the United Nations Environment Programme has produced advice to enforcement authorities on correct procedures for dealing with seized product.

Publication of the new document, Checklist on Auctioning of Seized Refrigerants – How to Get it Right, has been produced following revelations by the Cooling Post last year that Bulgarian customs authorities were planning to auction over 10 tonnes of seized refrigerant. 

News of the auction of R410A and R404A refrigerant, imported outside of the EU quota system in illegal disposable cylinders, caused widespread concern. The Bulgarian Customs Agency insisted that any buyer was obliged to comply with the applicable EU and national legislation. 

It is not known whether pressure was applied to the Bulgarian authorities but, in the end, no bids were received and the Bulgarian Customs Agency announced that the seized refrigerant would be destroyed.

The European Commission has since informed member states that it is possible to auction seized refrigerant provided that it is explicitly stated that HFCs can’t be released for free circulation in any territory of the EU without repackaging in refillable cylinders and correctly labelled. The purchaser must also have available quota to cover the imported quantities.

Dos and don’ts

The dos and don’ts document now published by UNEP Ozonaction’s regional Montreal Protocol Network for Europe and Central Asia (ECA network) describes the options open to customs and enforcement officers in design with seized refrigerant. This includes re-exporting, destruction and auctioning.

Destruction is not seen as a good environmental option as high temperature incineration is currently the only suitable method. In addition, this is not available in every country and can cost up to $10/kg. However, the producer/exporter in the country of origin or the importer in the destination country could be liable to cover the costs.

Illegal refrigerants intercepted before customs clearance could be turned back at the border. Refrigerants seized after customs clearance could be re-exported to the producer/exporter if known. The concern with both of these options is that these could be smuggled back in at a later date.

Auctioning of seized refrigerants is only possible if the seized refrigerants can still be legally used in the country or in other countries. This means complying with national legislation, import/export licensing requirements and import quota allocations. Also, the refrigerant should meet standard specifications, be correctly labelled and packaged (ie not in banned non-refillable cylinders) and if they are not counterfeit.

The document stresses that successful auctioning can be a complex operation which needs careful preparation and consideration of a whole range of aspects. For instance, national legislation might prevent the auctioning of seized refrigerants, but UNEP Ozonaction argues that it offers economic and environmental advantages since it avoids the destruction with the associated high destruction costs, emissions and energy use. At the same time, it could satisfy the legitimate need in a country where the refrigerant can still be legally used and avoids the production of new substances with the associated production costs, emissions, use of energy and resources.

The document can be viewed and downloaded here:

Related stories:

Bulgarian customs to auction illegal refrigerant21 June 2019
BULGARIA: Over 10 tonnes of seized refrigerant, imported outside of the EU quota system in illegal disposable cylinders, is to be auctioned to the general public by Bulgarian customs authorities. Read more…

Auction of seized refrigerant set to go ahead23 June 2019
BULGARIA: The auction of HFC refrigerants seized by Bulgarian customs appears to be going ahead, despite efforts by the Cooling Post and other industry groups to stop it. Read more…

Illegal refrigerant will be destroyed24 June 2019
BULGARIA: The Bulgarian Customs Agency has announced that the seized refrigerant it was seeking to auction will now be destroyed. Read more…

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