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Plastics play key role in new appliance sustainability standards

By: Michael Lauzon

June 8, 2012

WASHINGTON (June 8, 12:35 p.m. ET) — Plastics can play a big role in a new sustainability standard for household refrigerators, according to an industry expert.

“There is no question plastics are covered in a lot of places in the standard,” said Wayne Morris, vice president of technology and operational standard for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers in Washington, one of the main authors of the standard, which awards points in several areas as measured against best practice.

The new standard is based on a lifecycle approach for identifying environmental impacts in energy during use, materials, end-of-life, performance and manufacturing. It was developed with the assistance of CSA Group’s Ottawa, Ontario, office and UL Environment of Marietta, Ga.

According to the standard, companies earn points for sustainability achieved in the several areas.

Plastics are a key material for constructing refrigerators. Polyurethane foam, for example, is key to the appliance’s energy efficiency. Choice of PUR blowing agent also affects the appliance’s rating. More points are awarded if the blowing agent has low contribution to greenhouse gases. Plastics are also widely used in interior components, where recycled content is possible to earn extra points, Morris said in a telephone interview on June 7, when AHAM announced the standards.

Use of recycled materials in refrigerator packaging is another area refrigerator producers can gain recognition.

To earn high points, a refrigerator producer needs to inventory materials that may be of environmental concern, Morris explained.

“For example, for certain flame retardants a company should show progress on reducing these materials of concern.” Flame retardants should meet new stringent standards in Europe. Companies also are urged to account for the amount of greenhouse emissions they generate and those of its suppliers as part of the lifecycle analysis.

“Companies earn points if they and their Tier 1 suppliers have environmental management systems,” Morris added.

Companies also gain points from reducing the amount of materials and weight of their products, another area where lightweight plastics might play a bigger role.

End-of-life disposal of a refrigerator can be rated higher when plastics are used because they could be recyclable. More extensive dismantling and recycling of the various construction materials would be in a company’s favor.

AHAM worked with CSA Standards and UL Environment to come up with the standard. They will form committees to move the standards through the United States and Canadian accreditation processes. Federal agency Environment Canada was a stakeholder in the process so far.

The new standard is a mouthful, AHAM 7001-2012/ CSA SPE-7001-12/UL 7001.