Few of us can live without grocery stores, but scientists say grocery stores can live without some harmful chemicals.
Scientists say, when refrigerators start to break down, which all eventually do, refrigerants leak into the air Those gases are contributing to greenhouse emissions, resulting in climate change. Supermarkets have lots of refrigerators, so they can play a big role.
In 2019, the owner of Winn Dixie, Southeastern Grocers, was fined for violating the Clean Air Act.
According to the U.S. Justice Department, Southeastern was ordered to pay $300,000. SEG must also invest $4.2 million over three years to reduce leaks and improve compliance. That means cutting the company-wide rate that the store's refrigerators leak coolant. It also agreed to use only non-ozone-depleting refrigerants in new stores.
The parent company of Winn Dixie did not return any of FOX 4's emails. They are required to submit their first report to the Environmental Protection Agency on July 1.
Dr. Win Everham is a Professor of Ecology and Environmental Studies at FGCU's Water School. He explains the mechanics of the basic refrigerator. He says, "You go through a cycle of a compressor. And the condenser turns the gas into a liquid and then the evaporator is turning, allowing the liquid to go back to the gas. And that's what happens inside your refrigerators, and then comes back to the back of the refrigerator. and all that energy is then turning it back into a liquid, and that's what gives the heat off the back."
A grocery store's refrigeration system is made up of thousands of pipes and joints. That's why, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average grocery store leaks 25 percent of its refrigerants into the atmosphere every year. The EPA launched the Greenchill program in 2007, for retailers to collaborate on how to reduce these emissions. The agency tells FOX 4 in a statement, "In 2019, the agency estimated that if every supermarket reduced its emission rate to the Greenchill partnership average of 14 percent, the industry could save more than 160 million dollars in refrigerant replacement costs and reduce annual refrigerant emissions, the equivalent of the greenhouse gas emissions from six-and-a-half million cars every year."
Florida-based grocer Publix is one of the founding partners of EPA's Greenchill program. five locations in Southwest Florida are Greenchill certified. and an EPA spokesperson tells Fox 4, while they don't comment on any ongoing or potential investigation, they also "found no record of any EPA enforcement action involving Publix due to leaking refrigerants."
Danielle Wright, CEO of North American Sustainable Refrigeration Council, gave a Tedx ReImagine Science talk in 2020 on the subject. She says, "Publix is looking at making CO2 their standard for new store builds, and has also taken a leadership role in testing out how we might get to take those existing stores and move towards a lower GWP over time. So, they take their environmental responsibilities and sustainability goals very seriously. "
Dr. Peter Ward worked for the U.S. Geological Survey for over 25 years.
Ward says, "The world has warmed about 1 1/2°F since 1950. It's very clear, but what is interesting about that, is the major warming was from 1970 to 1998 and then, from 2014 to 2016, so the warming occurred at two distinct times, whereas greenhouse gases have been going up steadily." He agrees that the planet's temperature has gone up, but he also says those two warming periods don't fit the greenhouse warming theory.
Dr. Everham explains, "The way we understand it, largely is we take fossil fuels out of the ground we burn them and release carbon dioxide and we create this blanket of carbon dioxide like glass in a greenhouse and heat energy can come through it from the sun. It gets changed to longer wavelengths, and it can't get back out so, the earth just gets hotter."
Everham shares the belief that switching to natural refrigerants would have a major impact on keeping the earth's temperature in check. He says, "Rainfall is changing in Southwest Florida. That impacts how we store the water. And, that impacts what gets downstream and causes things like red tide. All of that is connected. So, if we don't get a handle on how to dampen the atmospheric driven climate change, it's going to cost us a lot more money because of the weather changes."
As far other grocery chains in Southwest Florida, Aldi, Target and Whole Foods have Greenchill certified stores, meaning they are individually recognized for using environmentally friendlier refrigeration systems, however, the retail chains do not have locations in Florida, yet.