Creative solutions by companies such as Dow Chemical are successfully addressing the issue of ozone depletion.
As early as 1978, it was widely recognized that freon and chlorofluorocarbons, CFCs, from human activities were causing a seasonal reduction in the stratospheric ozone levels in both polar regions, particularly over Antarctica. Ozone acts as a protective layer in the stratosphere and is known to filter out significant quantities of UV-B radiation, which causes increased incidence of skin cancer and cataracts in humans, as well decreased health in plants and animals. Scientists noted that the ozone hole broke up annually and that ozone-depleted air migrated to nearby land masses, such as New Zealand and South America. Based on these observations, public sentiment pressured governments to enact change.
In 1987, 43 countries signed the Montreal Protocol to reduce the use and production of substances that deplete the ozone layer, but policy and diplomacy were only the beginning of the answer. It was up to human ingenuity to create practical solutions and substitutions to meet the goals of the agreement.
The Dow Chemical Company did its part to reduce the use of ozone-depleting CFC’s through its development of carbon dioxide as a blowing agent to put the tiny bubbles into polystyrene foam sheets. The winner of the 1996 Presidential Green Chemistry Award in the Greener Reaction Conditions category (http://www.epa.gov/gcc/pubs/pgcc/winners/grca96.html) developed a novel process using 100 percent carbon dioxide to manufacture the packaging for meat and poultry as well as for fast food containers, egg cartons, and Styrofoam cups and plates. CFC’s are also greenhouse gases, and by using CO2 from existing commercial and natural sources, Dow’s process does not add additional greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Because of the decades-long time delay between the release of ozone depleting chemicals at ground level and their final migration to the stratosphere, a statistically significant stabilization of the Antarctic ozone hole is not expected until 2024 and recovery is not expected until 2050 or after, but the concerted international effort to reduce or eliminate the use of CFC’s is cause for great optimism. The expectation is that indeed, the global efforts to address the issue, including efforts from industry to invent new alternatives to old technologies, are well on the way to solving the problem. This global spirit of cooperation should be a model for dealing with all the environmental challenges of our world.