Stratospheric ozone, otherwise known as the ozone layer, is a layer of gas (O3) that partially shields the earth from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. In the 20th century, use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) punched a giant hole in the ozone layer. The increased UV rays have led to higher rates of skin cancer and eye problems. The good news is that bans on CFCs have significantly slowed the growth of the ozone hole and curbed the damage to our planet. By avoiding products and practices that damage the ozone layer and by fighting for more action from government and industries, you can help the ozone layer heal and help protect the earth.
Avoiding Ozone-Depleting Products
Check your fire extinguishers to find active ingredients. If “halon” or “halogenated hydrocarbon” is the main ingredient, find a hazardous waste center at which to recycle it or call your local fire department for instructions on how to dispose of it. Replace it with a model without this harmful ozone-depleting chemical.
Don’t buy aerosol products with chlorofluorocarbons (CFC). Although CFCs have been banned or reduced in many applications, the only way to be sure is to check the label on all your hairsprays, deodorants and household chemicals. Opt for pump spray products over pressurized cans, to further reduce your chance of buying CFCs.
Dispose of pre-1995 refrigerators, freezers, and air conditioning units properly. These devices use chlorofluorocarbons to function, so leaks release the chemical into the atmosphere.
Call your local utility company to see if there is a bounty program in your area that your appliance qualifies for.
If not, contact your municipal department of public works to ask how to dispose of refrigerated appliances in your neighborhood.
Buy lumber, wood products and plywood that were not treated with methyl bromide. Wood treated with this pesticide will “off gas” elemental bromine that depletes the ozone layer. All pallets or crates carry a stamp that shows how they were treated: HT indicates they were heat treated while MB means methyl bromide was used. For other woods, ask the person who is selling to you how the wood was treated.
Researching and choosing construction products that don’t employ bromomethane could be just as important as stopping the use of CFCs at home, since elemental bromine has been found to be more toxic to the ozone layer.
Advocating For Ozone Protection
Contact local farms or your political representatives to advocate for more efficient fertilizer use. Organic and inorganic fertilizers are by far the largest human source of nitrous oxide production, and this gas is now the prime culprit in depleting the ozone layer. Fertilizers are of course important, but to limit their impact on our atmosphere, suggest these practices that both save money and reduce emissions:
Better matching fertilizer rates to crop requirements.
Using fertilizer formulations and additives that reduce emissions.
Improving fertilizer timing to assure maximum nitrogen absorption.
Using precision fertilizer placement to minimize nitrogen loss to the atmosphere.
Write to your local or national representative. The majority of man-made ozone depleting chemicals now come from agriculture. Encourage your representative to put forth laws governing fertilizer use. Be sure to point out that by using fertilizer more effectively, these laws can save farmers money while also protecting the environment.
Talk to your friends about how they can protect the ozone layer. Shrinking the hole in the ozone layer will take all of us working together. Encourage your friends to drive less, eat less meat, buy local, and to properly dispose of old fire extinguishers or cooling appliances containing ozone depleting substances.
Changing Habits to Protect the Ozone Layer
Drive less. Nitrous oxide is now the largest ozone-depleting substance released by human activities (as well as a potent greenhouse gas), and it is produced in the internal combustion that powers most cars. In the U.S., about 5% of all nitrous oxide pollution comes from vehicles. To reduce the amount of nitrogen oxide your car produces, consider:
Driving a hybrid or electric car
Neutralize your vehicle’s greenhouse gas emissions with a Carbon Offset
Eat less meat. Nitrous oxide is also produced when manure decomposes, making poultry, beef, and dairy farms large producers of the gas.
Buy local. The further your food or other goods have to travel to reach you, the more nitrous oxide will be produced by the engines that bring them to you. Buying locally is not only a great way to find the freshest produce; it will also protect the ozone layer.