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What is Green Chemistry?

Green chemistry is a way to design chemicals and processes so they are safer, healthier, and more sustainable. It seeks to prevent pollution at its source by creating chemicals that are not toxic. This eliminates exposure to toxic chemicals for workers, consumers, and the environment. It also encourages using renewable feedstock, reducing energy use, and optimizing other factors that are better for human health and the environment.

Green chemistry has been around for decades. In 1998, Paul Anastas and John Warner published  twelve principles of green chemistry, which created goals for chemists and manufacturers to consider when they create new chemicals or processes.

Moving towards Green Chemistry

While it would be ideal for all chemicals to be created using the green chemistry principles, it will not happen overnight. Some existing products and processes already use many green chemistry principles but others use few or none. If green chemistry principles are incorporated into both existing and new product designs, we will greatly reduce the impacts chemicals have on human health and the environment.

Can you think of some examples that use the Principles of Green Chemistry?

  • Using a Safer Solvent?
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    Coffee can be decaffeinated using supercritical Carbon dioxide or water. These are current options used commercially to remove caffeine from coffee beans. Both are much safer solvents than those used historically (such as benzene), and those being used today, (such as methylene chloride). Hide this content.



  • Chemicals made from a renewable feedstock and degrade after use?
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    Packing peanuts made from starch were developed as an alternative to polystyrene packing peanuts. These alternative peanuts are made from plant starch, a renewable resource, unlike the polystyrene peanuts which come from oil. The starch peanuts have the added advantage that they can be composted after use.

    Packing peanut on the ground.
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Close up of mussel.

Biomimicry

Another way to get ideas for green chemistry is to copy how nature does things. For example, researchers are studying how mussels and barnacles adhere to wet rocks in order to develop new glues that surgeons could use. These glues could have many applications.

Do you want other examples?

The Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge recognizes new advances in the field of green chemistry. It promotes the environmental and economic benefits of green chemistry and recognizes individuals and businesses for innovations in the field.

For more information about Ecology’s role in promoting green chemistry, contact Saskia van Bergen.


GREEN PRODUCT DESIGN

Green chemistry is an integral part of green product design which is designing products to eliminate waste and toxicity at every stage in a product’s life cycle.

Reducing toxics from products includes greening the supply chain. The supply chain is the system of organizations, people, technologies, activities, information and resources involved in moving a product or service from supplier to customer.

Greening the supply chain simply means that non-toxic processes are used at every step in the manufacturing of the new product.

For more information about green product design visit: