Is CFC biodegradable? (5 common sources of CFCs) 

This article will explain the biodegradability of CFCs. Other covered topics will be: 

  • What are the sources of CFCs?
  • Why are CFCs regarded as a pollutant?
  • What are the applications of CFCs?
  • What is biodegradation?
  • What is the impact of non-biodegradable material?
  • FAQs

Are CFCs biodegradable?

CFCs are a non-biodegradable compound and may take many years to degrade. For example, CFC-11 may degrade in 9 years. 

CFCs were introduced in the early 1930s and were used extensively until the 1970s. CFCs use began as an alternative to harmful compounds like ammonia and methane. 

Other uses of CFC include aerosol, use in ACs, refrigerators, oceanographic studies, and medicinal applications. 

However, in the late 1970s, the effects of CFCs as a greenhouse gas and ozone depletor were unveiled leading to a decline in the use of CFCs. 

What are the sources of CFC? (5 common sources of CFCs) 

CFCs expands to chlorofluorocarbons. As the name suggests, CFCs are made up of carbon, chlorine, and fluorine. 

CFCs are badly associated with the environment because there are a number of known impacts of CFCs on the environment and also life. 

It is argued that CFCs react with atmospheric ozone. There is an ozone layer in our atmosphere which protects the earth from harmful rays of the sun.

Gases like CFCs damage the ozone layer by reacting with ozone molecules and thus, this results in the decreased filtering of the sun’s harmful radiation. 

As a result of this, a number of negative effects are observed including skin and eye diseases. 

CFCs are also regarded as greenhouse gas. The main damage that greenhouse gases do to the environment is that they are responsible for the entrapping of the sun’s heat in the atmosphere leading to increased global temperature. 

This phenomenon is termed global warming. Global warming leads to a number of other environmental and life-related complications which will be detailed in the next sections. 

The most common sources of CFCs are: 

  • Refrigerators
  • Aircraft halon 
  • Air conditioners 
  • Aerosol sprays
  • Rogue CFCs

The following are the common properties of CFCs that account for their use in applications such as ACs, refrigerators et cetera. The properties of CFCs include: 

  • Non-flammable
  • Tasteless
  • Colourless
  • Odourless
  • Volatility 
  • Low boiling points 
  • Chemical stability 
  • Reaction with ozone 

Why are CFCs regarded as a pollutant?

CFCs are regarded as an environmental pollutant owing to a number of reasons. The bluntest reason why CFCs are specifically linked with environmental degradation is the fact that CFC is a greenhouse gas. 

Greenhouse gases are those gases that are known to cause increased global temperature. Examples of greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, ethylene, methane, NOx, and SOx. 

Most of these gases result from the consumption and burning of fossil fuels. These gases entrap the heat energy from the sun and lead to rising temperatures. 

It is claimed that the global temperature has risen by more than 1.8 degrees which is pretty dark given the global context. 

It is seen that there is an increased level of interconnection and dependency between the earth’s processes and as a result, when one aspect is disturbed, it acts as a rippling effect reaching other aspects and areas of the Earth. 

Other environmental impacts caused by global warming include rising sea levels, increased melting of glaciers, unprecedented rainfalls, unseen weather patterns, droughts, insect attacks, pest attacks, and disruption of ecosystems. 

All these effects are reciprocated in the form of loss of life, loss of environment and loss of substantiality. It is estimated that environmental degradation may result in billions of dollars wasted that further puts strain on the systems. 

As an example, consider the recent example of unprecedented rainfall in Pakistan in the year 2022 which resulted in massive flooding.  

It is claimed that many areas in Pakistan received more than 400% rainfall that affected more than 30 million people with unaccountable loss of substantiality

CFCs also are known as ozone depletor. The gases may react with the ozone in the atmosphere which may lead to ozone thinning. 

Ozone is the protective layer that protects the earth from the harmful impacts of the sun’s radiation. When the ozone layer is damaged, sun rays cause increased damage to the environment. 

Further, the effects are also seen in life and humans as well. It is estimated and argued that ozone depletion has resulted in medical anomalies such as damage to the skin and skin diseases. 

What are the applications of CFCs?

You may wonder if CFCs are that impactful to the environment in such a detrimental way, and why there is a need for CFCs. This section will cover the various applications of CFCs. 

For this, it is important to know the various sources of CFCs. The sources of CFCs in which CFCs are mostly used involve: 

  • Refrigerators
  • Aircraft halon 
  • Air conditioners 
  • Aerosol sprays
  • Rogue CFCs
  • Oceanographic studies
  • Groundwater studies
  • Medicinal applications Degreasing solvents 

The physical properties of CFC such as low boiling points, colourless, odourless, and is non-flammable, make CFCs a perfect fit to be used in air conditioners and refrigerators. 

The use of CFCs began in 1928 when it was synthesised as a result of harmful gases used in refrigerators that included ammonia, methyl chloride, and sulphur dioxide. 

It was assumed that CFC is not harmful and toxic such as the said gases and that it gives off a good utilitarian value without causing any great harm to the environment. 

However, it was in the 1970s that the harmful effects of CFCs were identified. Although CFC does not cause that great harm directly, since CFC is a GHG and leads to ozone holes, there are catastrophic implications of CFCs. 

What is biodegradation?

Biodegradability is defined as the microbial breakdown of waste into simpler substances so that the waste may become a part of nature again. 

You may wonder why this is important. The process of breakdown of waste into simpler substances is important because it reduces waste accumulation and assimilation. 

If there is waste accumulation, there will be negative impacts of the waste on the environment and human life. 

There are some factors that are essential for the biodegradation process. These factors may include 

  • Microbes
  • Aeration 
  • Sunlight 
  • Temperature 
  • Pressure 
  • Other external conditions 

You may think of biodegradability as a natural dustbin because it leads to waste segregation. If there is no biodegradability, there will be negative effects reciprocated to life and the environment. 

Based on biodegradability, there is a general understanding that waste may be categorised into two classes. One is biodegradable waste and the other is a non-biodegradable waste. 

Biodegradable waste is the type of waste which may be degraded by the action of microbes. There is a general rule of thumb that products and substances made from natural sources like plants and animals are included in the list of biodegradable waste. 

Whereas, products and substances made from non-natural materials can not be broken down by the action of microbes and enzymes. These products are thus included in the category of non-biodegradable waste. 

There are a lot of known impacts of non-biodegradable waste which may include: 

  • Waste accumulation 
  • Ozone depletion 
  • GHG emission
  • Global warming 
  • Soil erosion
  • Deforestation 
  • Destruction of habitats 
  • Loss of life
  • Disruption of ecosystem 
  • Infiltration into the food chains

It is also argued that the effects of non-biodegradable waste are not just limited to the environment but are also expanded to life and human health. Below are some of the common negative impacts of non-biodegradable waste on life and human health:

  • Organ damage
  • Hormone disruption 
  • Lung dysfunction 
  • Cancer
  • Developmental issues
  • Neuro Complications 
  • Nerosis 

What is the impact of non-biodegradable material?

Non-biodegradable waste affects the environment in a number of ways. The most prominent impact of non-biodegradable waste is the accumulation of waste. 

It is expected that the world produces more than 2 billion tons of waste. If this waste is more inclined towards non-biodegradable waste, then this waste may remain in the environment and landfills for as long as a thousand years. 

It will incapacitate the waste management endeavours and the life-carrying capacity of the Earth. Therefore, it is really important that focus must be done on the formation of biodegradable waste more than non-biodegradable waste because the former is easier to tackle and handle. 

Another impact caused by non-biodegradable waste is the emission of harmful gases including greenhouse gases. 

Most of the non-biodegradable material is made from products derived from fossil fuels. These products come at the cost of emission of harmful gases like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, ethylene et cetera. 

These gases lead to the overall rise in global temperatures and this phenomenon is termed global warming. Global warming then, in turn, leads to other environmental anomalies. 

This is largely because the engine of the Earth is lineage and linkage. If there is a disruption in one aspect, there will be disruption in other aspects as well. 

The impact of non-biodegradable waste is not just limited to the environment. Life, in general, and humans are also greatly impacted by the occurrence of non-biodegradable waste. These effects include: 

  • Organ damage 
  • Necrosis 
  • Cancer
  • Neuro Complications
  • Developmental issues 
  • Damage to the foetus
  • Hormonal disruption 

Are CFCs biodegradable?

On the basis of the studied details, it can be proposed that CFCs are non-natural chemical compounds that are synthesised in the lab.

It was found that it may take several years for CFCs to degrade and therefore it can be summarised that CFCs are not biodegradable. 

CFCs are known to have uses and applications due to their physical properties of low reactivity and boiling points. CFCs have been used extensively in aerosols, air conditioners, and refrigerators.  

However, CFCs are known to cause ozone holes and global warming and are therefore considered unfit to be used owing to impacts on the environment and people. 

Conclusion

It is concluded that CFCs were introduced in the early 1930s and were used extensively until the 1970s. CFCs use began as an alternative to harmful compounds like ammonia and methane. 

However, in the late 1970s, the effects of CFCs as a greenhouse gas and ozone depletor were unveiled leading to a decline in the use of CFCs. 

CFCs are non-biodegradable and may take many years to degrade. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Are CFCs biodegradable?

What is a greenhouse gas?

A greenhouse gas is an agent responsible for increased global temperature and global warming. 

Do CFCs degrade?

Yes, CFCs degrade in the stratosphere by photodissociation. However, microbes can not degrade CFCs. 

References

  • Horneman, A., Stute, M., Schlosser, P., Smethie Jr, W., Santella, N., Ho, D. T., … & Van Geen, A. (2008). Degradation rates of CFC-11, CFC-12 and CFC-113 in anoxic shallow aquifers of Araihazar, Bangladesh. Journal of Contaminant Hydrology, 97(1-2), 27-41.
  • Manzer, L. E. (1990). The CFC-ozone issue: progress on the development of alternatives to CFCs. Science, 249(4964), 31-35.
  • Powell, R. L. (2002). CFC phase-out: have we met the challenge? Journal of fluorine chemistry, 114(2), 237-250.
  • Plummer, L. N., & Busenberg, E. (2000). Chlorofluorocarbons. In Environmental tracers in subsurface hydrology (pp. 441-478). Springer, Boston, MA.

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