Many households have air conditioners to keep their homes cool during hot summer days, or just warm days in general for those who live in a high-temperature climate. They are a luxurious necessity, but one unit does not last forever. Air conditioning units typically last up to 15 years, but what happens when those 15 years are up?
Air conditioners can and must be recycled by law in most places. Under no circumstances can they be thrown away with the rest of the garbage.
How you recycle it is a different question, however. There are many different ways to get rid of an air conditioner, but it must be recycled and not just thrown away with the rest of your trash (which is illegal in most countries). In this article, we will go over when you should replace your AC, how to properly dispose of it, and why you cannot simply throw it in a landfill.
How do I Know I Need to Get Rid of My AC?
Before you actually get rid of your air conditioner, it is important to know how to determine if you should, indeed, get rid of it. You do not want to be tossing out a perfectly good unit. Here are a few ways you can tell it is time for you to get rid of your air conditioner.
- It is old—AC units last anywhere between 10 and 15 years, as long as it is maintained well. If it is anywhere within this age range and it is not working the best, it is time to replace it.
- It is inefficient—Nowadays, with new and improved technology, air conditioners should have a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) rating of at least 13. This number measures how efficient an AC unit is. If it is lower than 13, it is considered inefficient and you need to get a more efficient unit. There are some cooling systems with SEER ratings as high as 21.
- It is expensive to repair—If your air conditioner keeps breaking down and eating the money out of your pocket, it is probably time to invest in a new unit altogether. It does not make sense to let an old unit rack up the bills with new parts, when you could easily replace the entire thing for much less.
- It is using R-22 Freon—Freon is not being used for the refrigerant in air conditioners as much as in the past, and it is becoming increasingly expensive to buy. It is being replaced by R-410A because Freon is not as energy efficient. If your unit still uses Freon, it would probably be better to switch to one that does not use it in the long run, because it is less efficient and will cost a lot of money to keep buying Freon for your unit.
- It is leaking—If you notice abnormal and excessive leaking from your air conditioner, there is a clear problem that needs to be attended to right away. While a little condensation around your unit is normal, the leaking refrigerant is a health risk and leaking water can cause a lot of damage and even harbor mold growth. When you have a leakage, it might be best to get a new unit altogether.
- Itis not cooling your house—If you are noticing that your house is not staying as cool and comfortable as you would like it to be, then your cooling system is not doing its job. Whether that is because it is old or is not big enough to cool your entire house, you will want to replace it as soon as possible.
Before you consider replacing the unit consider recharging the air conditioner. I won’t go into much detail about it here but if you wish to learn more about it head out to my previous article about recharging an air conditioner.
If you are having any of these problems, then it is time to replace that air conditioner. But what do you do with the used one? There are a few options.
How to Recycle an Air Conditioner
Once you are aware that you need to get rid of your current AC unit, you need to educate yourself on the proper way to dispose of it. Air conditioners CANNOT be thrown away with the rest of your garbage. I cannot stress this enough. They are extremely bad for the environment if disposed of improperly.
There are specific regulations that must be followed to properly discard an air conditioning unit.
First and most importantly an EPA (the United States Environmental Protection Agency) licensed technician must remove the refrigerant. It should not be removed by someone who is not a trained professional, as there are specific regulations to dispose of the materials safely. After that, there are a few options for what to do with the rest of your AC unit.
Scrap or junk yards
One option would be to find a local scrap yard in your area that would be willing to take your unit and turn it to scrap metal. To locate one near you, you can start by visiting your state’s or local government’s websites. If you can’t find anything there, try contacting your local government personally to find where the nearest one is located. Some yards might even buy the extra metal you have on your hands.
Sanitation and recycling
Aside from scrap yards, you could also contact a local sanitation or recycling business to help dispose of your air conditioner. These companies often have their own procedure for removing and discarding your unit, so they will take care of the whole process for you—from refrigerant removal to scrapping your AC.
Depending on the company, you could have to pay a fee for them to remove the unit from your home. However, some companies will actually pay you for the extra metal you are getting rid of because of its scrap value that can be repurposed for something else. Sometimes, you can even check with your retailer to see if they will handle the process of removing and recycling the unit for you while you are looking to replace it with a newer model.
The EPA provides a list of recycling facilities across the United States that follow their disposal guidelines and are considered RAD (Responsible Appliance Disposal) partners.
Donation and selling
If you are looking to replace your air conditioner before it has completely worn out, it could still be good to donate or even sell the whole unit.
You must note, though, that in order to donate or sell your AC, it has to have been manufactured after January 1, 2010. This regards the government’s phasing out of R-22 refrigerants mentioned earlier. Any AC that uses this type of refrigerant, even if it is still in good shape, will not be good for resale.
However, if your unit is in good shape, has been manufactured after this date, and does not use R-22, then you are in luck. If you are looking to give back to your community, donating your AC to a local school, community center, or store could be a great way of doing that. Even reaching out to those in need within your community, like senior citizens or low-income individuals, and providing them with air conditioning can go a long way.
Selling your air conditioner is an option too. The best way to get it on the market is to create an online listing for it, whether that is through a local Facebook buy/sell group or a platform like Craigslist.
Why Throwing Air Conditioners Away Is Illegal
It is important to properly dispose of household appliances like air conditioners because of their effects on the environment. That is why just tossing your unit with the rest of your trash is illegal and can cost you a hefty fine.
Coolants in air conditioners contain one of two refrigerants—R-22 or R-410A. While R-410A is more efficient and therefore better than R-22 for the environment, both refrigerants are harmful when not disposed of properly. R-22 contains ozone-depleting chemicals that make it dangerous to just let it sit in a landfill. Both refrigerants are greenhouse gases that help increase unwanted global climate change.
Because of the harmful elements of R-22, the U.S. federal government began to phase out the use of this refrigerant in air conditioning units, replacing it with R-410A since helps make units more efficient. However, R-410A is still terrible for the environment as well. According to Australia’s Department of Agriculture, Water, and the Environment, one kilogram of R-410A has the same impact as running your car for six months. Without proper disposal, both refrigerants can end up being more harmful than good for our planet.
Understanding the environmental impact of an air conditioning system is important when disposing of it. If you do not take proper disposal of it seriously, it can not only hurt you financially with a fine, but it can harm the environment, which is a problem not easily fixed. So, next time you are looking to replace your air conditioner, make sure you contact your technician and follow proper guidelines to recycle and discard your unit.