Council on Energy, Environment and Water Integrated | International | Independent
Activating Circular Economy for Sustainable Cooling
Current Status and Barriers to Lifecycle Refrigerant Management in India
Aditya Garg, Sonal Kumar and Shikha Bhasin

Suggested Citation: Garg, Aditya, Sonal Kumar and Shikha Bhasin. 2023. Activating Circular Economy for Sustainable Cooling: Current Status and Barriers to Lifecycle Refrigerant Management in India. New Delhi: Council on Energy, Environment and Water.


This study analyses and brings forward the present state of refrigerant management in India. It discusses the obstacles to sustainable refrigerant management and highlights measures deemed necessary for a practical strategy across various sectors to minimise the release of highly potent refrigerants into the atmosphere and create value.

India's cooling demand is set to increase drastically, estimated to grow about eight times by 2037-38 due to economic growth, lifestyle changes, and rising temperatures (MoEFCC 2019). Unfortunately, this growth will heavily rely on refrigerants like hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) and hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC), which are not only potent greenhouse gases but also have a high global warming potential (GWP) and pose a severe threat to the environment. Therefore, it's crucial for India to adopt an innovative and comprehensive approach to lifecycle refrigerant management in line with the principles of the circular economy.

Key findings

  • The projected surge in cooling demand is expected to lead to a five to eight-fold rise in refrigerant demand by 2037-38, predominantly relying on high GWP HFCs (MoEFCC 2019).
  • Approximately 40 per cent of India's refrigerant demand originates from the servicing sector, primarily due to leakages occurring during the operational stage of cooling devices which is because of poor servicing and installation practices (MoEFCC 2019).
  • Despite the significant issue posed by refrigerant emissions during the operation and disposal of cooling devices, the existing national legislation pertaining to refrigerants primarily concentrates on upstream measures such as limiting their production and consumption.
  • India currently has no mandate to recover, reclaim, or destroy refrigerant gases effectively.
  • As an initial measure to address refrigerant emissions throughout their lifecycle, India has taken steps, supported by multilateral funds (MLF), to equip selected servicing enterprises with recovery machines across the country. Additionally, 18 mini-reclamation centres have also been established (MoEFCC 2019).
  • Environmentally conscious waste management in India, especially for e-waste and vehicles where refrigerants are used for cooling, is nascent and mainly handled by the informal sector. This leads to the extraction of valuable components and the release of refrigerants into the environment due to their limited or negligible market value for reuse.
  • The absence of a functional reverse supply chain for refrigerants, coupled with unsustainable business models, poses a major obstacle to the reclamation and reuse of refrigerants in India, despite the availability of existing infrastructure.


Effective implementation of lifecycle refrigerant management requires a comprehensive approach. Our study emphasises the need for a collaborative and coordinated effort by policymakers, private industry, and consumers to ensure sustainable management of refrigerants throughout their lifecycle in India.

Executive summary

Due to increasing population, rapid urbanisation, improving per capita income, and, most critically, an increase in global temperatures due to climate change, cooling demand is expected to increase significantly both in India and globally. This will increase the demand and consumption of potent refrigerants like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are currently being used as refrigerants in cooling devices, until natural refrigerant-based cooling devices become commercially viable.

In the cooling industry, India is one of the top producers and consumers of refrigerants in the world. In accordance with the Montreal Protocol, the Government of India has implemented significant measures to control the production and consumption of synthetic refrigerants like CFCs, HCFCs and HFCs. However, insufficient actions are taken till now to avoid the emissions from the operational stage and end-of-life (EOL) of the already installed devices containing refrigerants. If no significant measures are taken beside controlling the production and consumption, a significant amount of refrigerants will collect over the coming decades, which will most likely get emitted into the environment. Refrigerant management is one method of limiting emissions in the refrigerant’s lifetime and promoting an orderly phase-out in developing nations. It involves refrigerant recovery, recycling, reclamation, reuse, and destruction. Hence, to control refrigerant emissions, it is crucial to adopt a refrigerant management approach and address the issue comprehensively throughout the lifecycle of the refrigerant.

This issue brief examines the current status of the refrigerant recovery, recycling, reuse, and destruction ecosystem in India with regards to regulations, laws, infrastructure and the various initiatives the Government of India has taken to curb the emission of these potent gases into the atmosphere. Additionally, the brief discusses the barriers coming in the way of the effective management of refrigerants in India.

Even though India has the least access to cooling, it is one of the biggest producers and consumers of synthetic refrigerants worldwide. In India, to a large extent, the unorganised sector caters to the servicing and EOL waste-handling needs. The study’s results suggest that although India has taken several initiatives to limit refrigerant emissions, various barriers still remain unaddressed. Limiting the refrigerant emissions from the cooling sector in India will require capacity building accompanied by a formalisation of the servicing sector, stringent regulations and reporting mechanisms, incentives to the end users and waste handlers, infrastructure, and coordinated industry efforts. These measures, directly or indirectly, will be critical actors in limiting refrigerant lifecycle emissions and help India achieve its ambitious net-zero targets by 2070.


Sign up for the latest on our pioneering research

Explore Related Publications