New Kawerau facility will process refrigerant gases used in household appliances

For the first time, New Zealand will soon be able to process the powerful greenhouse gases used in refrigerators and other household appliances.

A multi-million-dollar state-of-the-art facility's being built in Kawerau and it'll play a key role in meeting our emissions-free target.

They may look like ordinary household appliances but they're having an extraordinary impact on the environment.

"If you've got an old heatpump at home, containing a kilo of refrigerant gas, and it gets released to the atmosphere, it's about the same as driving a Ford Ranger for a year," warned Destruction of Synthetic Refrigerants Trust chair Richard Lauder.

Heatpumps, fridges, air conditioning units and cars all contain synthetic refrigerants, known as fluorocarbons. And while they're designed to keep both us, and our exports cool, they're slowly but surely warming the planet.

"They are very strong greenhouse gases and have thousands of times the ability of CO2 to absorb heat from the earth and the other thing they're well known for is destroying the ozone layer," warned climate researcher James Ranwich.

More often than not, the hazardous waste is just recklessly released into the atmosphere or shipped to specialist destruction plants in other counties.

"There's a lot of risks associated with that, so it's far better to have our own facility in New Zealand to manage our own waste streams," Lauder said.

It's hoped the facility based in Kawerau, will be fully operational by the end of next year in time for the country's shift from voluntary to legislated recovery and disposal of refrigerants.

And the project's on track, having secured all necessary environmental permits and a key multi-million-dollar piece of technology from Canada.

"The plant's pretty sophisticated technology and actually runs at the same temperature as the surface of the sun and we need that to destroy these gases effectively," Lauder said.

Once the facility's up and running, the Trust has an ambitious target to reduce New Zealand's refrigerant greenhouse gas emissions by 90 percent by 2035.

That's equivalent to taking all of Christchurch's cars off its roads each year. And while it won't solve all our problems, Ranwich said "it's an important part of the story".

And a step in the right direction.