Rules to Design By: Green Chemistry Principles

While researching an article on Green Chemistry for the upcoming Non-Toxic Times (which, keep your fingers crossed, will come out next week), I stumbled across an entry on the same subject in the ever amazing Wikipedia that contained something I didn’t know existed: a set of principles to guide chemists in greening their labs and the things those labs create.

Principles, of course, are always a good thing because they set certain benchmarks and establish concrete guidelines for whatever it is we’re trying to do. Whenever a decision comes up as we proceed, we can compare all our possible choices to the principles at hand. When we do, we often find that there’s no decision to be made at all. The principles make it for us. They may even suggest that we drop the current operation entirely and try something else.

In the case of green chemistry, the 12 principles were created to steer chemists away from toxic substances and processes, and encourage healthier alternatives. I can’t for a moment pretend to know what some of these are about. (“Stoichiometric reagents, for example, is a pretty scary term. I think I had a beaker or two of that at a really ugly frat party once…), but than again why should I? They’re not for me. They’re for the people who are actually out there mixing up the molecules. The people who need to stop messing with nature and start working with it instead. They’re only for you and I in the sense that as they ripple through the chemical community, they’ll eventually trickle down to us in the form of safer, healthier, non-toxic alternatives to today’s hazardous products and processes. You’ll never use them yourself, but you will someday end up using the stuff they lead to, and we’ll all be a lot healthier for it.

When it comes to chemistry and all the substances it’s constantly unleashing on the world (The EPA gets approval applications for roughly 2,000 new chemicals every year–more than five new materials every day), it’s obvious that some guidance has definitely needed but clearly been lacking. The 12 Principles of Green Chemistry provide this missing ingredient. If even just one chemist takes them to heart and decides to design differently, they’re working. If they spread and inspire a whole new generation of researchers, which they appear to be doing (see the upcoming article in the newsletter), then we’re really getting somewhere we desperately need to go. Either way, I was glad to see the ideas behind green chemistry codified in a practical way that scientists can actually use. It’s a sign that the good guys are gaining ground.

Here are the 12 Principles:

  1. Prevent waste: Design chemical syntheses to prevent waste, leaving no waste to treat or clean up.
  2. Design safer chemicals and products: Design chemical products to be fully effective, yet have little or no toxicity.
  3. Design less hazardous chemical syntheses: Design syntheses to use and generate substances with little or no toxicity to humans and the environment.
  4. Use renewable feedstock: Use raw materials and feedstock that are renewable rather than depleting. Renewable feedstock are often made from agricultural products or are the wastes of other processes; depleting feedstock are made from fossil fuels (petroleum, natural gas, or coal) or are mined.
  5. Use catalysts, not stoichiometric reagents: Minimize waste by using catalytic reactions. Catalysts are used in small amounts and can carry out a single reaction many times. They are preferable to stoichiometric reagents, which are used in excess and work only once.
  6. Avoid chemical derivatives: Avoid using blocking or protecting groups or any temporary modifications if possible. Derivatives use additional reagents and generate waste.
  7. Maximize atom economy: Design syntheses so that the final product contains the maximum proportion of the starting materials. There should be few, if any, wasted atoms.
  8. Use safer solvents and reaction conditions: Avoid using solvents, separation agents, or other auxiliary chemicals. If these chemicals are necessary, use innocuous chemicals. If a solvent is necessary, water is a good medium as well as certain eco-friendly solvents that do not contribute to smog formation or destroy the ozone.
  9. Increase energy efficiency: Run chemical reactions at ambient temperature and pressure whenever possible.
  10. Design chemicals and products to degrade after use: Design chemical products to break down to innocuous substances after use so that they do not accumulate in the environment.
  11. Analyze in real time to prevent pollution: Include in-process real-time monitoring and control during syntheses to minimize or eliminate the formation of byproducts.
  12. Minimize the potential for accidents: Design chemicals and their forms (solid, liquid, or gas) to minimize the potential for chemical accidents including explosions, fires, and releases to the environment.

Deep Dive

My good friend Joe Laur from SoL sent me this quote today. Given the comment from Nigel on the Bitter Coal’d post below, thought it was appropriate tone to what we all could do to move from here to there…to create the needed frameworks to design the present state into a world where the well-being of all is considered… Thanks, Joe……………WR

The Way of Transformation

(From the book by the same title by Karlfried Graf von Durckheim)

The man who, being really on the Way, falls upon hard times in the world will not, as a consequence, turn to that friend who offers him refuge and comfort and encourages his old self to survive. Rather, he will seek out someone who will faithfully and inexorably help him to risk himself, so that he may endure the suffering and pass courageously through it, thus making of it a “raft that leads to the far shore.”Only to the extent that a man exposes himself over and over again to annihilation, can that which is indestructible arise within him. In this lies the dignity of daring. Thus, the aim of practice is not to develop an attitude which allows a man to acquire a state of harmony and peace wherein nothing can ever trouble him. On the contrary, practice should teach him to let himself be assaulted, perturbed, moved, insulted, broken and battered-that is to say, it should enable him to dare to let go his futile hankering after harmony, surcease from pain, and a comfortable life in order that he may discover, in doing battle with the forces that oppose him, that which awaits him beyond the world of opposites.

The first necessity is that we should have the courage to face life, and to encounter all that is most perilous in the world. When this is possible, meditation itself becomes the means by which we accept and welcome the demons which arise from the unconscious- a process very different from the practice of concentration on some object as a protection against such forces. Only if we venture repeatedly through zones of annihilation can our contact with Divine Being, which is beyond annihilation, become firm and stable. The more a man learns wholeheartedly to confront the world that threatens him with isolation, the more are the depths of the Ground of Being revealed and the possibilities of new life and Becoming opened.


Pure Know How

Non-Toxic Times reader Patti Murphy wrote in about our recent article on parabens and we wanted to share what she had to say with y’all

We wholeheartedly endorse your concerns about parabens in everyday products. My own experience with breast cancer last year opened my eyes to the impact of this endocrine disrupter chemicals in the products I used everyday. This awareness started a process that has resulted in a new venture, Pure Know How. We publish a weekly on-line bulletin on the toxins in everyday cosmetic, personal care and household products. We also have an extensive Web site with resources, product reviews, a blog and archives. Our “fresh and friendly approach” to this important issue has been resonating with our subscribers – as indicated by the number of people who have signed up to receive the weekly e-bulletin and the feedback we’ve received. Check us out.