HFCs: the human-made greenhouse gas that's contributing to global warming

March 31, 2021

Ever wondered how your fridge manages to keep things cool in the summer heat? It's the refrigerant circulating inside them, evaporating from liquid to gas due to pressure, cooling the fridge and letting you enjoy that ice cold OJ in the morning and keeping your Zooper Doopers cool.

Common refrigerants are HFCs or Hydrofluorocarbons. They're synthetic greenhouse gases that were created to replace other refrigerants that are harmful to the ozone layer. You'll find it in your fridges, cars, air conditioners and more. Unfortunately, when they leak out, they become pollutants with much higher global warming potential (or GWP) than other natural greenhouse gases. This means they remain in the atmosphere for a long time, trapping a lot of heat and contributing to global warming. Talk about pouring gas onto the fire.

Refrigeration and food waste

Food waste in the cold food chain alone contributes to 1.3% of Australia's total greenhouse gas emissions. Studies have shown that proper refrigeration is essential to preventing a lot of good food from going bad. From transporting your food to local stores to retailers displaying food in-store, the efficiency of refrigerators have a huge role to play in keeping food good to eat.

What can be done then?

We still need refrigeration. In fact, we need better refrigeration to prevent food waste. Our discussion of greenhouse emissions isn't a zero sum game. The environmental impact of both food waste and HFCs are important to consider.

Fortunately, there are always alternatives and new ways to do things. Refrigerants with lower GWPs are an option for refrigeration industries. Australia is also headed in the right direction with HFCs having begun to be phased out in 2018 (hooray!). This means a gradual reduction in HFC imports being permitted into the country, and the encouraged adoption of lower GWP alternatives within industry.

Cool! (Heh.) Is there anything I can do too?

At the moment, the phase down affects industry refrigerants. Domestic appliances are likely to still contain HFCs. Getting a proper technician to make sure it's functioning properly with zero leaks will help heaps in minimising its environmental impact. If you're getting a new fridge however, be sure to take into consideration the type of refrigerants it uses and its energy efficiency.

Being a responsible fridge owner and taking care with storing your food properly will both help with reducing our impact on the earth!