Green Chemistry – What Is It And Why Should Your Company Take Note

What is Green Chemistry?

Stated most simply, Green Chemistry is the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use and generation of hazardous substances. As the theory goes – fewer hazardous substances means fewer hazardous wastes and a healthier environment.

The principles of Green Chemistry were first proposed by P. T. Anastas and J.C. Warner in 1998. The 12 guiding principles are:

1. Prevent waste: Design chemicals to prevent waste.

2. Design safer chemicals and products: Design products to be effective, with little or no toxicity.

3. Design less hazardous chemical syntheses: Use and generate chemicals with little or no toxicity to humans and the environment.

4. Use renewable feedstocks: Use raw materials that are renewable, such as agricultural products.

5. Use catalysts: Minimize waste by using catalysts.

6. Avoid chemical derivatives: Avoid chemical derivatives.

7. Maximize atom economy: Design so that the final product contains the maximum proportion of the starting materials with nothing wasted.

8. Use safer solvents and reactants: Use less and safer solvents.

9. Increase energy efficiency: Run chemical reactions at room temperature and pressures.

10. Design chemicals and products to degrade after use: Design chemical by-products to break down to be innocuous.

11. Analyze in real time to prevent pollution: Monitor and control in real time to reduce pollution.

12. Minimize the potential for accidents: Design to minimize the potential for accidents, explosions, fires, and releases to the environment.

According to EPA, Green Chemistry is not one particular set of technologies, but rather an emphasis on the design of chemicals, processes and products. Green Chemistry can lead to changes in how we interact with chemicals, greater efficiency (fewer reaction steps, fewer resources, less waste) and environmentally friendly products.

The EPA’s Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge promotes and recognizes outstanding chemical technologies that incorporate the principles of green chemistry into chemical design, manufacture, and use. It recognizes chemical development that has been or can be used by industry in achieving pollution prevention goals.

California Initiatives

California enacted a Green Chemistry statute in 2008. Under the law, Cal-EPA and the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) must adopt regulations to implement Green Chemistry principals in California.

These regulations have been proposed and in broad part require manufacturers, importers and private labels to investigate the chemical composition of the products they offer for sale. A product’s composition will be generally available to the public through the DTSC Web site so consumers can access the details. If a product contains particularly toxic chemicals identified by the state, the manufacturer, importer or private labeler will be required to perform an assessment of alternative chemicals for use in the products. If products are not re-formulated with safer alternatives, companies may be prohibited from selling them in California.

The DTSC also promotes the application of Green Chemistry through source reduction programs. DTSC requires hazardous waste generators to prepare hazardous waste source reduction plan for their major waste streams and update them every four years. In these plans, generators examine their waste processes and identify source reduction opportunities.

Green Chemistry initiatives are not limited to California. Other states such as Connecticut, Maine, Minnesota and Washington are looking at similar programs. In Minnesota, the Toxic Free Kids Act requires the state pollution control agency and health department to evaluate and prioritize chemicals of concern for future regulation.

In Europe, the EU nations are adopting laws and regulations under a program for the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) to regulate the use of chemicals of concern in Europe. REACH programs will certainly impact imports of products into Europe.

How will Green Chemistry Impact Your Company?

The regulation of chemicals and chemicals in products is here to stay. When bringing a consumer product to market, companies will need to consider the life cycle design, raw-material inputs, manufacturing processes, waste generation, exposure and risk profiles, carbon and energy footprints, recycling and reuse. The liability risks are becoming greater than ever because of increased scrutiny on potential human exposures to harmful chemicals in consumer goods.

What should you do?

Here are some of the basic building blocks of information needed to assess your Green Chemistry profile:

1. How do the green chemistry principles apply to your business? Is your business transparent on these issues? How will you manage questions on your business practices and products? What can you do now to build a Green Chemistry “resume” for your business and products?

2. What chemicals are in the consumer products you sell? Product composition information is going to become more and more available to the public. How will this affect your company? Chemical composition inquiries can create risk. Collection of analytical data should focus on objectives, necessity of data, defensible test methods, human exposure analysis, foreseeable product use and confidentiality.

3. Where are the risks? Do you understand chemical toxicity and consumer usage/exposure details for your business and products? Can you prove the negative — Are your products safe?

4. Can you reduce or eliminate harmful chemicals that are present in your products? If products are not re-formulated with safer alternatives, you may be prohibited from selling them in some states in the future.

5. What are your competitors doing? How will you manage Green Chemistry initiatives with your downstream distributors and retailers? How will you handling Green Chemistry initiatives with you upstream manufacturers and suppliers? How will you handle Green Chemistry initiatives as a licensor or licensee?

6. Stay ahead of the curve. Legal and technical input on the front end can help you manage your Green Chemistry program. Start now so you don’t face these questions when your products are flying off the shelf.

Most of all stay informed. Green Chemistry is headed for prime time and will affect companies large and small.