Yes, the ozone layer still needs saving

Quick notes:

  • The ozone layer is made up of oxygen molecules that absorb UV rays from the sun

  • There is an enormous hole in the ozone layer

  • Stop using styrofoam to help protect the ozone

The world is full of problems. The oceans are warming, the coral reefs are dying, and we can no longer use plastic straws in good conscience. But it might be time to add one more problem to your list: ozone layer destruction. Luckily, there are some simple ways you can do your part to save this integral part of our world.

What is the ozone layer?

We can’t see it, but the ozone layer is protecting us each and every day from the dangers of the atmosphere. If the sun was left to its own devices, it is likely that we wouldn’t just get sunburns — we’d be sun-dead.

The ozone layer is made up of different types of gas: ozone gas and oxygen gas. These gases absorb ultraviolet light from the sun and prevent rays from reaching our fragile planet, people and plants alike. When the ozone molecules take in the UV light, they create heat, warming our planet and keeping us safe. But for all the work the ozone layer does for us, we haven’t been treating it very well.

NASA

In 1975, scientists discovered a hole in the ozone layer. The hole was double the size of the continental United States. Even though the hole closes each winter, it appears like clockwork in the spring, and most years it has gotten bigger. If we can’t get the ozone layer under control, we could be at risk for much more than a hot summer.

Is climate change destroying the ozone layer?

Climate change isn’t the cause of ozone layer depletion, but a thin ozone layer might be contributing to climate change. Essentially, the destruction of the ozone layer creates massive winds that affect rainfall patterns and overall weather throughout the world.

If climate change isn’t destroying the ozone, what is? In the 1970s, right around the time the ozone layer hole was discovered, scientists also connected the dots between CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) and the destruction of the ozone. It turns out that CFCs (used in everything from aerosol spray cans to styrofoam) float up to the upper layers of the atmosphere and that their chemical reactions destroy precious ozone molecules.

How can we help save the ozone layer?

Tip #1: Stop using styrofoam.

Lucky for us, there are little things that everyone can do to protect our wonderful ozone. The first solution is easy: stop using styrofoam (and other products that contain CFCs). Thanks to science and the replacement of CFCs with HCFCs (hydrochlorofluorocarbons) that are much less destructive to the atmosphere, we’re already making strides: scientists believe that with the decreased use of CFCs, the ozone layer might be back to its 1979 thickness by 2049.

Tip #2: Make sure your refrigerants are responsibly destroyed.

The second step you can take is to make sure your refrigerants are responsibly destroyed. (Refrigerants are used to cool your fridges and air conditioners.) The best option is to move to totally natural refrigerants that don’t include CFCs or HCFCs, but if that isn’t an option, make sure you always go to an EPA-approved professional (mechanic, HVAC professional, etc.) to dispose of your used or retired refrigerant.

The good news is that 2019 saw the smallest ozone layer hole on record. The bad news? We still have work to do. Read your labels, recycle your plastics, and use reusable containers whenever you can. You too can help save our planet!

A deeper dive — Related reading from the 101

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