What is the EPA Cylinder Ban?

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Refrigerants were first used in the United States in the early 1800s when natural substances, such as ammonia, carbon dioxide, and sulfur dioxide, were initially used in cooling systems.

However, these substances had safety concerns, prompting the development of synthetic refrigerants such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) in the early 20th century. These new refrigerants significantly improved safety but were later discovered to contribute to ozone depletion. In 1987 the US joined the international Montreal Protocol, which led to a phase-out of CFCs and HCFCs in favor of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). While HFCs have no ozone depletion potential, they have a high global warming potential. As a result, recent efforts have been implemented to phase down HFCs and promote environmentally friendly alternatives.

Keeping refrigerants contained and out of the atmosphere is critical. Manufacturers must put refrigerants in metal cylinders to store, transport, and utilize these materials. There are two forms of cylinders: disposable and refillable. Currently, it is estimated that there are four to five million 30-pound refrigerant cylinders in the US, and only between one to 10 percent of those are refillable.

Disposable cylinders have several downsides, which is why, starting on January 1st, 2025, the EPA is banning the sale of new disposable cylinders and their use beginning January 1st, 2027: “Disposable cylinders have been banned in a number of countries, including the European Union, Canada, and Australia. So the reason why they’ve been banned in all those places, and why the EPA is following their example, is when you are done using them, there are remnants of the refrigerant, called the heel, and that’s an environmental risk,” shares Irina Tsukerman, a New York-based human rights, and national security lawyer.

Overall, this ban aims to reduce emissions of hydrofluorocarbons and help promote the use of more sustainable alternatives, such as natural refrigerants, which have lower environmental impacts. The EPA Cylinder Ban has been met with some opposition from industry groups such as Worthington Industries and several HVAC/R associations, that argue it will raise costs for businesses and consumers while empowering Chinese manufacturers. Additionally, some technicians have expressed concern over safety issues related to using alternative refrigerants.

Keep reading to learn more about the EPA Cylinder Ban, why it is important, and who is opposed to it and why.

Meet The Expert: Irina Tsukerman, JD

Irina Tsukerman

Irina Tsukerman is a human rights and national security lawyer based in New York, where she runs a boutique national security law practice. She is a member of the American Bar Association’s Energy and Environment and Science and Technology Sections, Program Vice Chair in the Oil and Gas Subcommittee, a member of the New York City Bar Association’s Middle East and North African Affairs Committee, and an affiliate member of the Foreign & Comparative Law Committee.

In addition, Tsukerman is the President of Scarab Rising, Inc., a media and security strategic advisory. She has appeared in the media worldwide as a geopolitical specialist dedicated to actionable analysis, and her writings and comments have been translated into over a dozen languages. Most recently, Tsukerman was honored for her contributions as a woman leader and a global humanitarian at the World Humanitarian Drive’s Trilateral Trade for Peace Conference in London.

Reasons For The Ban

The EPA published a final rule called “Phasedown of Hydrofluorocarbons: Establishing the Allowance Allocation and Trading Program under the AIM Act” in October 2012. This act is critical in addressing global warming and aims for an 85 percent reduction in HCFs by 2036. The ban on disposable cylinders was included in this act as well as an allocation allowance program that determines the production and consumption limits of HCFs.

Banning disposable cylinders was written into this act because it is impossible to use all the refrigerant, and some is left behind: “When you dispose of the cylinder, it still presents dangerous environmental hazards because there’s no clean and safe way to dispose of these remnants,” explains Tsukerman. This leftover refrigerant can inadvertently be released into the atmosphere when cylinders are discarded.

Another reason for banning disposable cylinders is to reduce the illegal smuggling of refrigerants. Over the years, refrigerants such as R-22, known as Freon, have been banned from production and are being phased out of use. This limited supply has caused an increase in illegal activities. “Disposable cylinders are cheap, and they’re untraceable. So, the government has concerns about them because of the black market for refrigerants,” says Tsukerman.

Reusable cylinders will be required to be traceable, ensuring that the products used in them are approved and regulated. Currently, the proposed tracking system will employ QR codes that will be scanned when the refrigerant is manufactured, imported, sold, and installed, guaranteeing a clear chain of custody. This way, the only refrigerants in use do not damage the ozone layer or contribute to global warming.

Pushback On The Cylinder Ban

Despite the reasoning for the ban and the positive effects it can have on global warming, there has been significant pushback: “There have been several efforts to stop it. There have been companies that have filed lawsuits over this. The primary complaint has been that the EPA has not been responsive to their questions and has refused to engage in a discussion,” says Tsukerman. The primary lawsuit filed was in December 2021 by Heating, Air-Conditioning, & Refrigeration Distributors International.

As of July 2023, the EPA had failed to provide a substantive response to the lawsuit, prompting James Comer, the Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Accountability for the US House of Representatives, to open an inquiry and ask the EPA to respond to Congress directly as to the reasoning.

In a letter, Congressman Comer lays out concerns about the ban from the HVAC industry. He wrote, “The replacement cylinder championed by the EPA causes a host of problems for the HVAC Industry and future efforts to phase down HFCs. The heavier weight and design of the refillable cylinder add risk regarding the safe use and transportation of HFCs and the safety of HVAC industry workers. Non-refillable cylinders are also preferred in the HVAC industry because of their lower weight and lower costs.”

However, likely the most significant issue with the ban, according to Congressman Comer in his letter, is that there are no US manufacturers of refillable refrigerant cylinders. Refrigerant manufacturing companies in the US would wholly rely on foreign manufacturers to make their cylinders. Ending disposable cylinder manufacturing in the US would create an unstable market and end many American-held manufacturing jobs.

Worthington Industries, a US-based globally diversified metal manufacturer, has prototyped a new disposable cylinder that addresses the EPA’s concerns. This new cylinder is recyclable, light, and includes technology to address remnant refrigerant and venting concerns. This cylinder would be manufactured in the US and keep jobs in the country rather than shifting the sales to overseas manufacturers. To date, the EPA has not communicated with Worthington about the viability of this prototype.

Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson is a freelance writer with a passion for sharing stories of bravery. Her love for world-traveling began when her family moved to Spain when she was six and since then, she has lived overseas extensively, visited six continents, and traveled to over 25 countries. She is fluent in Spanish and conversational in French. When not writing or parenting she can be found kiteboarding, hiking, or cooking.

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