If you are about to retire an old window AC unit, stop and think about what you are going to do with it. Some of the ways to dispose of it may actually be illegal, though you may not realize it. It would be a bad thing to receive a fine when you thought you were just “taking out the trash”!
This article will tell you what you need to know about the proper disposal of a window AC unit.
What’s the Problem with Window AC Disposal?
Like all appliances that operate on the refrigeration process, window AC’s use refrigerants, which are special compounds that are either in a liquid or gaseous state. The most common ones are Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), including R12, Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), including R22, and Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), including R410A and R134. I promise I won’t use those words again!
These refrigerants are believed to contribute to the “greenhouse gas effect”, aka Global Warming, aka Climate Change. Some of them are also believed to deplete the ozone layer, which is a thin part of the Earth's atmosphere that absorbs almost all of the sun's harmful ultraviolet light.
Inside an AC unit, these refrigerants are contained in a sealed system and are not a threat to the environment if they don’t leak. But because we see so much emphasis on clean air and climate change these days, you can see why it has been made illegal to cause these compounds to be released into the air. Pitching your old window AC into the trash, where it will end up in a landfill, will cause the refrigerant to eventually leak and damage the environment.
Did you know? Only people with a special license (EPA 608) can legally handle these refrigerants, having been trained as to how to do it safely. The concern about leaked refrigerant is that significant!
If you set your window AC out on the curb for trash pickup, they will probably not take it. The rest of your trash will be gone, but the AC unit will be left sitting there. If you try to take it to a sanitary landfill and dump it along with some other stuff, you are breaking the law and may receive a fine.
What are my Legal Options for Window AC Disposal?
Fortunately, there are several ways to properly dispose of a window AC unit.
1. Sell It.
If it still works but you are simply replacing it, you might try selling it by advertising through one of the online sites. You might even post it on a community bulletin board at your local grocery store, laundromat or similar place. Clean it up a little and keep the price low – it will probably be picked up by someone looking for that very item. You cannot sell a unit that was made before 2010 because it will contain R-22 which makes it illegal for re-use once removed from service.
2. Refurbish It.
There are qualified contractors who can refurbish your air conditioner. This involves checking it for leaks and repairing them if necessary, cleaning and topping off the refrigerant if needed. If your AC unit was manufactured before 2010, however, this cannot be done because it contains R-22 refrigerant as noted above. It cannot be replaced. Even a newer unit could be pricey to refurbish, so get an estimate before you decide to go this route.
3. Donate It.
If it is still in working order, there may be several places that could use an older, operational window AC. Think of schools, churches, senior centers or community centers. They might not need it, but they might know of someone who does. Once again, check to see that it was manufactured after January 1, 2010 before donating the window AC unit.
4. Trade It In.
If you are shopping for a new window AC, ask your salesperson if this is an option. Some retailers may offer cash or a discount on a new appliance when you recycle your old air conditioner through them. Others may offer pickup and disposal services for old appliances if you buy a newer model from them.
5. Turn It In for a “Bounty”.
Believe it or not, you might be able to turn in your window AC unit and get money back through a special program sponsored by your local utility company. In some areas, the appliance owner is paid a "bounty" to allow the recycler to collect and recycle the appliance. The same program might also offer a rebate or discount toward the purchase of a new higher-efficiency model. Check with your electricity provider to see if this kind of program is an option for you.
6. Recycle It.
Some scrap yards will take an old AC unit, have the refrigerant professionally removed and then reclaim the copper and other materials for scrap. If you do this, be sure that the scrap yard will dispose of the refrigerants properly. The EPA has a list of centers across the country that service its Responsible Appliance Disposal (RAD) partners. If you can’t find a convenient location online, check with your local government and ask where the nearest facility is located.
7. Take It to Your Local Transfer Station.
Often, your local transfer station will also allow you to dispose of an old window air conditioner. This is often at the same location as a landfill, but may be separate from it. They could have a special disposal area dedicated specifically for any appliance containing refrigerants. They could also be in a partnership with a third-party agency that does this for them. There might be a charge for them to take your window AC, so be sure to check with them before you go.
8. Hire a Professional to Take It.
There are folks who make their living doing this very thing. They pick up old AC units, refrigerators and freezers and legally remove the refrigerants. Assuming it isn’t the oldest type of refrigerant, they can resell it. Then they tear the unit apart and separate all of the copper, wire, aluminum and steel for resale later. Check online for junk removal companies that provide on-demand service.
As you can see, you really have quite a few options for the proper disposal of a window AC unit that will keep you on the right side of the law. Please take this seriously because local and federal authorities have made it a priority to enforce the EPA regulations under Title VI of the Clean Air Act. You can read about some of the penalties that have been levied on individuals, scrap yards and organizations here.
We don’t want you to face penalties like this just because you “took out the trash”.