E.I. DU PONT de Nemours & Co. is starting a program to buy back used Freon and other chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) from hundreds of thousands of customers who use the gas to chill refrigerators and air conditioning units. Du Pont's actions, which will soon be followed by another major producer, Allied-Signal Inc., has important implications for the environment. In the past, large users of CFCs such as supermarkets or office buildings have vented the gas or liquid into the atmosphere. CFCs are now known to harm the ozone layer, a section of Earth's atmosphere that screens out harmful sun rays.
Instead, Du Pont, which produces half the CFCs used in the United States, is offering to buy the used product, including that made by its competitors. In addition, Du Pont will supply the vessels to hold the used CFCs and will pay all the freight costs.
Du Pont's action is being applauded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington. ``Recycling is a good idea since it helps to protect the ozone layer,'' says David Lee, an analyst with EPA's Global Change division. Mr. Lee estimates that by the year 2000 a third of all CFCs can be recycled. The US alone consumes 700 million pounds of CFCs a year.
Environmentalists, who have been critical of Du Pont in the past, are positive about the effort. Carolyn Hartmann, a staff attorney at US Public Interest Research Group, says: ``This is something environmentalists support. It will have an effect on reducing emissions.''
In Congress the reaction was positive. Rep. Fortney H. (Pete) Stark (D) of California says, ``I congratulate Du Pont for doing the right thing.''
The Du Pont effort will be the first time a major CFC manufacturer has reclaimed products used in refrigeration. Refrigeration consumes about 45 percent of all CFCs produced.