Green Chemistry

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In the past two decades, the Green-Chemistry Movement has helped industry to become much cleaner and more sustainable. However, mindsets change slowly, and the revolution still has a long and tough road ahead.

Green-Chemistry is a revolutionary philosophy that began 20 years ago, and seeks to unite government, academic and industrial communities, by placing more focus on environmental impacts at the earliest stage of innovation and invention.

Back then was when chemical industries finally realized they have to “clean up their act”. With the “Bhopal” chemical disaster—which killed at least 3,000 people—still fresh in people’s memories, and the massive amount of toxic waste from chemical plants poisoning land, water and air, their environmental reputation was destroyed.

Even when companies tried to deal responsibly with their waste, the volumes were daunting. The result, as chemical companies struggled to deal with increasingly stringent environmental regulations, was an industry-wide move towards what is often known as “green chemistry”—a term introduced in 1991 by Paul Anastas, then a 28-year-old staff chemist with the EPA1.

Simply put, green chemistry is the utilization of a set of that reduces/eliminates the use/generation of hazardous substances in the design, manufacture and application of chemical products.

The goal of Green Chemistry was never just clean-up, explains Anastas. In his conception, Green Chemistry is about redesigning chemical processes from the ground up. It is about making industrial chemistry safer, cleaner and more energy-efficient throughout the product’s life cycle, from synthesis to clean-up to disposal. It is about using renewable feedstock wherever possible, carrying out reactions at ambient temperature and pressure—and above all, minimizing or eliminating toxic waste from the outset, instead of constantly paying to clean up messes after the fact. "It is more effective, it is more efficient, it is more elegant, it is simply better chemistry," says Anastas.

If the Green-Chemistry ideal is simple to state, however, achieving it has been anything but simple.

Although many chemists, organizations and companies are actively pursuing Green Chemistry, there are still many barriers to progress. These include a general lack of awareness and training in schools, universities and industry and a management perception that Green Chemistry is a cost without benefits.

As greening any given process is always a trade-off among benefits, feasibility and cost; “green” is not always the winner.

The challenge is not just to find environmentally benign alternatives to current materials and technologies and introduce them across all types of manufacturing, but also to prove these alternatives economically superior and function as well or better than more toxic traditional options.

Many advocates claim that the most fundamental barrier to the wider adoption of Green Chemistry is the mindset that has not been trained to treat the consequences of what we do as an intrinsic part of our work.

That mindset is bound to change if we are ever to achieve a sustainable and healthy economy.

 

Glossary

1) EPA: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is an agency of the Federal Government of the United States charged with protecting human health and the environment, by writing and enforcing regulations based on laws passed by Congress.

References
nature.com
wikipedia.com

 

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