ozone layer

A New Effort to Save the Ozone Layer and Protect the Climate

By Ernest Moniz and Gina McCarthy

As world leaders gathered at the United Nations this week, the Obama administration and global partners today announced several unprecedented steps to secure an ambitious amendment to the Montreal Protocol. This successful global agreement is already putting Earth’s fragile ozone layer back on track to full restoration. But an ambitious amendment would dramatically cut down on the usage of damaging greenhouse gases known as hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs.

HFCs are commonly used in air conditioning and refrigeration applications around the world. They can be hundreds to thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide and their emissions are increasing by 10 to 15 percent on an annual basis globally. That’s why we must continue working to replace HFCs with more climate-friendly alternatives. And an amendment to the Montreal Protocol is the best way to do that.

Last year, global leaders agreed to “work within the Montreal Protocol to an HFC amendment in 2016.” Coming to an agreement among nearly 200 countries is never easy, and considerable differences still need to be bridged. But we’re confident that an amendment will be reached during final negotiations at the next Montreal Protocol conference in Rwanda next month.

Today’s announcements include four main components that will help ensure a strong outcome during the conference:

  • One: Including an appropriate “early freeze date,” when production and consumption of HFC refrigerants must stop increasing in so-called Article 5 countries (i.e., those in need of assistance). During an event in New York this morning, ministers representing more than 100 countries rallied behind an ambitious amendment with an “early freeze date.”
  • Two: 16 donor countries and philanthropists announced their intent to provide $80 million in fast start support to Article 5 countries. $27 million in funding from donor countries is being offered to help Article 5 countries jump-start their efforts to design and implement programs that reduce HFCs. It will be provided as long as an ambitious amendment with a sufficiently early freeze date is adopted this year. Meanwhile, $53 million from philanthropists will help countries maximize economic benefits during this transition through various energy efficiency programs. This is the largest-ever package of fast-start philanthropic support for boosting the energy efficiency of appliances and equipment. The Energy Department’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimates that a 30 percent improvement in air conditioner efficiency can double the climate benefits of an amendment. DOE has long invested in research and development, as well as standards to improve energy efficiency, including in the air conditioning sector where transitioning to HFC alternatives is important. For example, our Super-Efficient Equipment and Appliance Deployment (SEAD) initiative of the Clean Energy Ministerial partners with governments to spur efficiency policies and programs that yield billions of dollars in consumer savings while cutting carbon pollution. Today’s announcements will super-size this work, bolstering the confidence of all countries that they can cut energy costs as they phase down HFCs.
  • Three: Today, the Energy Department also published a report with the results of a testing program to evaluate the performance of HFC alternatives in hot climates. This is important because some countries have raised questions about whether HFC alternatives can perform as well as current refrigerants in those conditions. Today’s new results demonstrate that HFC alternatives can perform just as well as current refrigerants even under the harshest conditions. In fact, they sometimes perform even better. Today’s report focuses on rooftop air conditioning units that are popular in countries such as Saudi Arabia, but a similar testing program in 2015 that focused on mini-split air conditioning units came to the same conclusion. In both cases, the testing program was conducted at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and guided by an international panel of technical experts from a broad and diverse set of countries.
  • Four: To round out the announcements today, hundreds of companies and sub-national governments – represented through associations or individually – voiced support for an ambitious amendment. That list of supporters includes major global firms that rely on air conditioning and refrigeration in their operations like 3M, Dell, Microsoft, Nike, Red Bull, Symantec, and Unilever, and it demonstrates that there is a strong coalition of stakeholders seeking a strong outcome in Rwanda next month.

In addition to taking these steps, we look forward to advancing our joint collaboration on the Energy Star program. For more than two decades, this program has helped American citizens and businesses learn more about energy-efficient products that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

We also look forward to continuing to work with our international partners as we take a giant step toward meeting the goals of the historic Paris Agreement. And we will push to secure the strongest possible HFC amendment next month in Kigali.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Tis the Season to Recycle

By Stuart Reed

As the nation’s largest seller of appliances, Sears Holdings Corp. has long championed initiatives and programs that save energy, and respect and protect the environment. That’s why, as the first and largest retail partner to join EPA’s Responsible Appliance Disposal (RAD) program back in 2007, today we’re proud to commemorate RAD’s sixth anniversary, and celebrate RAD’s accomplishments in protecting the climate and ozone layer.

As a RAD partner, Sears is committed to providing our customers an environmentally friendly appliance disposal service, where we recycle your discarded refrigerator, freezer, air conditioner, or dehumidifier when you purchase a new one – in California, we’ll pick up your old appliances for recycling even if you don’t buy a new one. We recover the refrigerants from these old appliances and make sure they aren’t released to the atmosphere, where they could harm the ozone layer and climate system. Did you know that Americans dispose of more than 9 million fridges and freezers every year? In 2011 alone, Sears’ recycling of refrigerant, insulating foam, metals, plastic and glass helped prevent the equivalent of the greenhouse gas emissions from more than 200,000 cars for one year.
We are also proud to be an Energy Star Partner of the Year Award recipient. By buying ENERGY STAR®-qualified appliances, customers can save money on their utility bills, and become more energy efficient.

In 2010 Sears began The Big Switch, a program aimed at helping families remove and recycle 5 million older, less efficient appliances from the energy grid, with the benefits of saving energy, responsibly disposing of material and keeping it out of landfills, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and ultimately saving families money on their utility bills.

Protecting the environment and inspiring others to do the same is a high priority for Sears. You can learn more here about how you can do your part to become more energy efficient. Changes come in all sizes, not just appliance-sized ones – if every American home replaced just one light bulb with one that has earned the ENERGY STAR, we would save about $680 million in annual energy costs and prevent 9 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions, the equivalent of emissions from 800,000 cars for one year. So this holiday season, whether you’re buying new appliances or just decorating your home, remember that everyone can play a role in protecting our environment.

About the author: Stuart Reed is the Senior Vice President and President – Home Services, Sears Holdings Corp.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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1 Millionth Recycled Refrigerator

By Gene Rodrigues

Last week was a huge milestone for Southern California Edison — we recycled our 1 millionth refrigerator. A million refrigerators is enough to fill a football stadium.

Partners from EPA’s ENERGY STAR and Responsible Appliance Disposal (RAD) programs and the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) helped us celebrate at the Appliance Recycling Centers of America (ARCA) facility in Compton, Calif. Jared Blumenfeld, the administrator of EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region, joined us to watch the ceremonial appliance crushing.

We are proud to have been one of the founding partners of EPA’s RAD program. In fact, I was at the launch event in October 2006. Since then, we’ve continued to be a leader in ensuring that old, inefficient fridges are taken off the grid and properly recycled. That includes recovering harmful substances found in the refrigerant and insulating foam.

As a RAD partner, we’ve avoided emissions of more than 170,000 pounds of substances that harm the ozone layer, and about 3.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. That’s the equivalent of removing 760,000 cars from the road.

In celebrating this milestone, SCE must also give credit to the California Public Utilities Commission and the NRDC, two organizations that provide incredible support for policies that encourage energy efficiency. And of course, without ARCA, and our other recycling partners, a million refrigerators could be disposed improperly, creating extensive damage to the environment.

ARCA began operations in California in 1993 as part of the Rebuild Los Angeles initiative following the civil unrest that occurred at that time. Since then, SCE’s recycling program provided nearly 75 percent of this facility’s business, with 63 full-time employees dedicated to the SCE work – with a 25 percent increase in staff during the busy summer months. For many of these employees, it’s the first time they worked for a company that offered healthcare, educational and vacation benefits.

If you’re curious about what refrigerator recycling looks like, here’s a short film featuring some major crushing action.

And finally, thank you to our customers and to utility customers across the nation who understand that the cleanest, cheapest kilowatt hour is the one you never use.

About the author: Gene Rodrigues, SCE Director, Customer Energy Efficiency and Solar

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Growing Up Poor Gives You A Special Sense of Community And Environmentalism

By Kristinn Vazquez

I have a confession to make. I’m cheap. Most people wouldn’t guess that about me. I do like to spend money on others. But, I’m cheap when it comes to resources at home and at work. I would argue most of us who grew up poor can relate. We’re environmentalists because we’re cost-conscious.

As the oldest of six, you wouldn’t think I received “hand-me-downs.” You haven’t met my family. I received the coolest clothes from an older cousin. When you’re poor, you realize the things you don’t need. You don’t actually need paper towels. You also don’t buy anything you could borrow. And, you rarely throw anything out. Someone might need it or have a creative use for it. Poor families have an incredible sense of community.

In our home now, all kinds of things become art supplies for the kids. Empty toilet paper rolls, bubble wrap, gift ribbons, plastic triangles from the center of pizzas, etc. (use your imagination)! Yogurt and butter containers become leftover containers. Plastic bags become pet waste bags. We’re constantly trading our kids’ clothes with friends. Here’s one we just learned: you can catch water in the shower and use that to water the plants. These are small ways to reuse and recycle materials, but they’re cost-saving measures for us, AND they’re good for the environment.

At the office, I help manage a program that considers bigger ways to recycle. We run the Responsible Appliance Disposal program that encourages utilities, retailers, and manufacturers to take your old refrigerators and window air conditioners, and responsibly dispose of the components that are harmful to the environment. If not properly handled, the refrigerant and foam contribute to ozone layer depletion and climate change. This month, RAD partner GE worked with Appliance Recycling Centers of America to open the first fully-automated appliance recycling facility in the U.S. Based in Philadelphia, the facility will not only serve more than a 12-state area, it has also created more than 50 new green jobs.

I’m proud to be helping the environment and the economy. On a personal note, if you’re upgrading to a new, more energy-efficient refrigerator, resist the urge to put the old refrigerator in your basement. This lowers the demand on the energy grid and perhaps more importantly when you’re cheap, lowers the demand on your own utility bills. I’d love to hear your ideas for creative recycling.

About the author: Kristinn Vazquez is the Deputy Director for the Stratospheric Protection Division. In her free time, she focuses on trying to see the world through her children’s eyes.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.