Pioneering approach to recovery and recycling of refrigeration assets


25 August 2021
Part of the DCS recycling process for insulation foam

Matt Davis, director of Northamptonshire-based Davis Commercial Services (DCS), explains the benefit of full circle refrigeration solutions using the best available technology.

Once refrigerated cabinets reach their end of life and require recycling, it’s vital that facilities for the treatment of this Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) are compliant with Best Available Treatment Recovery and Recycling Techniques (BATRRT). This ensures the environment is protected, waste is diverted from landfill, and hazardous waste regulations are met. 

Revisions to Environmental Permitting Regulations, and new air emissions targets under the Industrial Emissions Directive, were introduced in 2018, with four years given for businesses to implement changes. More stringent standards have been established, using better application of the best available technology/techniques (BAT) element of BATRRT.

These changes have resulted in DCS and similar permit holders having to re-evaluate operations. Therefore, we’ve been working hard to research and acquire ground-breaking technology. Drawing on our 30 years’ expertise in commercial refrigeration and recycling processes for the retail sector, we’ve introduced bespoke processes to ensure we are ahead of the game in meeting these standards and achieving zero waste to landfill. 

Full circle solutions 

When it comes to the many challenges involved in preserving valuable commercial refrigeration assets and their subsequent, specialist recycling, it’s clear that co-ordinated project management and ground-breaking technology play a key role. All the component parts of a refrigeration system should be handled in such a way that ensures maximum environmental benefit, be that reuse or repair of component parts, recycling of metal, or recovery of energy from residual materials. 

New refrigeration assets ready to go into a store

That’s why here at DCS, in addition to our licensed Approved Authorised Treatment Facility (AATF) for waste electrical and electronic wastes, we’ve taken a turnkey approach to help extend the lifecycle of retail refrigeration. Our full circle commercial refrigeration services cover everything from secure warehouse storage and installation of new assets into store, to the removal of old assets for refurbishment or recycling. 

Our recently expanded four-acre facility, conveniently based in Northamptonshire, provides the ideal central location for nationwide estate management and rollouts for supermarkets and independent retailers. We work closely with a range of stakeholders in the refrigeration sector, including heads of retail refrigeration, engineers and facilities managers, retail consultants, project managers and building consultants to help them reach their sustainability goals. 

A pioneering approach 

To continue finding more efficient and environmentally friendly ways of enhancing the recyclability of end-of-life cabinets, in 2019 we undertook an intensive review of best available technology, which needs to be applied to waste treatment installations by 2022.

We soon realised that no ‘off the shelf’ solution was available. Working with European technology providers during 2019-2020, we designed a bespoke solution, especially adapted for our commercial recycling process, to abate the release of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in the cabinet insulation foam. Historically, this type of treatment has never been utilised in the commercial fridge recycling processes. A fully compliant air abatement system must be in place to treat the VOCs generated from the recycling process and reduce emissions that are harmful to the environment. 

Given that the panels are hazardous according to their potential flammability, the system is fully sealed and ATEX rated. Our foam compactor is fitted with a bespoke extraction system, which puts the foam through an automatic three stage compacting process. The machinery is connected to an abatement system manufactured especially for our operation which compresses material in a continuous process. This captures blowing agents, fumes, and dust, and ensures air emissions limits (AELs) are reached. Regular monitoring of emissions from this process continues to confirm that BAT has been applied, in advance of the 2022 implementation date. 

Once this process is complete, the insulation granulated foam is utilised as WDF (Waste Derived Fuel) by manufacturers in various industries. All component parts of the fridge cabinets, including the plastics, glass, ferrous and non-ferrous metals, and insulation foam are recovered for reuse, for raw materials to ensure that no parts go to waste. 

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Warehouse operations

Refrigerant and oil recovery 

Reducing the emissions of global warming gases is a key area of F-Gas regulations. These have been in place in a number of forms since 2008, outlining the legal requirements in relation to working with fluoridated greenhouse gases. UK legislation has now been updated under The Fluorinated Greenhouse Gases (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations which came into force in May 2021.

We use a vacuum suction system which removes and captures refrigerants and oils from the waste electrical and electronic equipment, containing VFCs and VHCs (volatile fluorinated and volatile halogenated compounds). Refrigerants are separated from the oils and the oils are degassed. The liquefied gas is stored in pressurised vessels for further treatment, then sent for reuse or incineration. 


Completed consignment notes must be kept for at least three years, as advised by the Environment Agency. We utilise computerised asset management software, which assigns a unique identifier to each unit received so that it can be tracked through the treatment process. We also continually review how materials flow through our site, to ensure the process is as efficient as possible and to maximise payloads of materials leaving site, to reduce vehicle movements. 

Our Recycling Management System is tracked using our bespoke asset management system from receipt to destruction and is reported back to each client with all waste documentation including access to an online portal. Hazardous waste consignment notes, and waste transfer notes are available online 24/7.

Project management – haulage

Expert management 

Project management is a vital element in the lifecycle of commercial fridges, to ensure assets are received and installed on time, from small rollouts, to large estate growth programmes. DCS liaises with cabinet manufacturers and shipping agents (if applicable) to ensure asset availability and coordinate installation labour and site construction teams. Total ownership of process is offered, providing one point of contact for all aspects of the process projects, from customer liaison and site access surveys, to practical completion and handover of a snag free installation.

At times, the removal of existing cabinets goes hand in hand with large development programmes. Collecting, storing and/or end of life recycling can all be managed, according to customer requirements. 
Historically, when delivering new cabinets to supermarkets and independent retailers, there would be additional charges to collect redundant cabinets and have them delivered to a recycling facility. As DCS uses its own waste facility to recycle cabinets, this means no additional haulage is required, helping to reduce costs and carbon footprint. 

Balancing quality with efficiency 

It’s vital that we act now to reduce emissions of air pollutants and waste, in order to combat climate change and make the best use of valuable resources. Reducing the impact of refrigeration systems on the environment will help to achieve sustainable goals. We are focused on helping supermarkets and independent retailers to be more resource-efficient and realise costs savings, whilst meeting the strict rules set out by hazardous waste regulations. To do so successfully, we must draw on the best available technologies and take a pioneering, full circle approach. 

Take the DCS Tour for a short, fly-through drone experience of the facility and its operations.

Davis Commercial Services