Everything you need to know about illegal refrigerants


14 Jan 2021


Maria [1], a Greek distributor of HFCs, currently runs a family business which was established over 60 years ago. In recent years, the company has lost business to smugglers active in the illegal trade in HFCs.

Undercut by the black market, almost all of Maria’s smaller customers now buy from illegitimate suppliers. What's more, she has heard that larger end use companies are also unwittingly working with technicians who use illegal refrigerants from disposable canisters. Maria estimates that illegally traded HFCs are so widespread in Greece that between 60% and 80% of the entire market is made up of smuggled product.

Undeterred, the company has written to the Greek government as part of a coalition of refrigeration companies in order to improve awareness and enforcement at borders. F-gas smuggling can be difficult to detect because it takes place in a range of creative ways; the coalition has heard reports of buses hiding containers in the luggage area, as well as refrigerated lorries carrying hidden containers. Despite the EU F-gas regulation being in place since 2015, fines are also rarely applied by the Greek enforcement authorities, so smugglers continue their activities when they are released. These criminal networks are not just smuggling HFCs, however the lack of penalties has made the trade particularly attractive. The Greek Ministry of Finance is aware of this issue and is currently working to bring about more severe fines.

Besides undercutting legitimate businesses, buying illegally traded canisters has the added danger that customers do not always receive the gas they intended to order. Maria has heard that many fill cylinders with whatever product they have available, causing damage to the refrigeration units down the line. Higher GWP refrigerants are available for lower prices on the black market, which is hindering shifts towards newer, more environmentally friendly alternatives.

The availability of illegally traded HFCs in Europe is so pervasive that it requires action from all levels of the value chain. Maria’s work is an excellent example of bringing companies together in order to encourage action from government. Her work to increase awareness about this issue is paramount in order to root out the problem.

[1] Names have been changed