Everyday the US produces or imports 42 billion pounds of chemicals, 90 percent of which are based on petroleum, a non-renewable feedstock.
“Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.” -Albert Einstein
There are growing concerns over the biological implications of chemical exposure which occurs over the human lifespan, particularly during the sensitive period of fetal development. Hundreds of chemicals released into the environment are accumulating in human tissues. Many of these chemicals enter the developing organ systems of developing fetus and infants through the blood stream and breast milk. Animal studies indicate that certain chemicals can disrupt the endocrine system, even at very low exposure. Among children, chemical exposure is estimated to contribute to 100% of lead poisoning cases, 10% to 35% of asthma cases, and 5% to 20% of neurological pathologies.
12 Principles of Green Chemistry
In an effort to promote green chemistry as a sustainable and practical alternative to current practices, the American Chemical Society has stipulated 12 key principles to advance green chemistry and ease the negative tolls many chemical operations have on human health and the environment.
It is better to prevent waste than to treat or clean up waste after it has been created.
- Atom Economy
Synthetic methods should be designed to maximize the incorporation of all materials used in the process into the final product.
- Less Hazardous Chemical Syntheses
Wherever practicable, synthetic methods should be designed to use and generate substances that possess little or no toxicity to human health and the environment.
- Designing Safer Chemicals
Chemical products should be designed to effect their desired function while minimizing their toxicity.
- Safer Solvents and Auxiliaries
The use of auxiliary substances (e.g., solvents, separation agents, etc.) should be made unnecessary wherever possible and innocuous when used.
- Design for Energy Efficiency
Energy requirements of chemical processes should be recognized for their environmental and economic impacts and should be minimized. If possible, synthetic methods should be conducted at ambient temperature and pressure.
- Use of Renewable Feedstocks
A raw material or feedstock should be renewable rather than depleting whenever technically and economically practicable.
- Reduce Derivatives
Unnecessary derivatization (use of blocking groups, protection/ deprotection, temporary modification of physical/chemical processes) should be minimized or avoided if possible, because such steps require additional reagents and can generate waste.
Catalytic reagents (as selective as possible) are superior to stoichiometric reagents.
- Design for Degradation
Chemical products should be designed so that at the end of their function they break down into innocuous degradation products and do not persist in the environment.
- Real-time analysis for Pollution Prevention
Analytical methodologies need to be further developed to allow for real-time, in-process monitoring and control prior to the formation of hazardous substances.
- Inherently Safer Chemistry for Accident Prevention
Substances and the form of a substance used in a chemical process should be chosen to minimize the potential for chemical accidents, including releases, explosions, and fires.
(taken from: ACS Green Chemistry Institute)
Using these principles as a guideline, we can work toward cleaner and safer practices, ultimately leading to a more sustainable future.
Think green when buying lab supplies. Many companies offer ways to reduce your environmental impact through these purchases and programs:
Products that are less toxic or less hazardous
SYBR Safe (distributed by Invitrogen) is a DNA stain designed to replace ethidium bromide, with a proven reduction in mutagenicity. See MIT’s case study of SYBR Safe pilot testing (PDF).
Safe Imager Transilluminator (distributed by Invitrogen) is a light box designed to replace harmful ultraviolet (UV) light for viewing stained gels (DNA, etc.) in the lab.
Bio-Safe Coomassie Stain (PDF) (distributed by Bio-Rad) is a dye designed to replace the traditional Coomassie stain for detecting proteins in electrophoresis gels. This stain is non-hazardous and eliminates the need for methanol and acetic acid for destaining.
Products that conserve materials
Continental Lab Products ESP (Environmentally Sensitive Packaging) pipet tip reloading systems reduce waste by 60% using re-usable, recycled content tip boxes and selling stackable tip inserts rather than single-use boxes.
Corning Labware (also distributed by Fisher Scientific) makes centrifuge tubes and serological pipets which can be bought in bulk, which can save you money and reduce wasted cardboard and Styrofoam packaging.
Friendly GreenTM Wipes (distributed by Blue Thunder Technologies) provides a greener alternative to the traditional Kimi Wipe used in labs.
Phoenix STAR Petri dishes (also distributed by VWR Scientific) were designed to use 35% less plastic than conventional Petri dishes.
Kimberly Clark recycled content paper towels and wipes (also distributed by Fisher Scientific) reduce the use of virgin wood for paper products used in the lab.
VWR Next Generation Pipet Tip Refill System offers an environmentally friendly option for pipette tip systems.
On-site supply systems. If you order from one vendor often, you might consider setting up an on- site supply closet with them. These are small freezers or storage areas with a set stock of products used in your lab, department, or center. You manage the inventory and in exchange, vendors can provide you with:
• Free or discounted shipping, • Free products, • A freezer for storage, • Promotional items or sales, • Convenience of having supplies on-hand whenever you need it.
You help the environment by consolidating your restock shipments rather than requesting multiple single-order shipments, reducing packaging waste and transportation impacts. A recent study showed that one institution cut its shipments from 200 per year to 50 per year, just from setting up an on-site supply system with one vendor!
Life science supply vendors offering on-site supply systems:
• Bio-Rad • Invitrogen • Qiagen • Roche Applied Science • Stratagene
General Lab Supply Distributors offering on-site supply systems:
• Fisher Scientific • VWR Scientific
Purchase less hazardous chemicals with the Green Chemical Alternatives Wizard. This web- based tool, developed at MIT under a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, allows individuals to search for alternatives to hazardous chemicals commonly used in laboratories. Print your search results, or have a link emailed to you. MIT users can link to the SAP procurement page from the wizard.
Hospitals for a Healthy Environment (H2E) website is an excellent resource for information on reducing waste and environmental impacts form healthcare and medical equipment, supplies, and operations.
Vendor Recycling Programs
Some vendors with take back materials such as pipet tip boxes (examples include Brinkmann- Eppendorf, USA Scientific, VWR, and Corning Labware). Contact your vendor for details on their specific take back program.
Solvent recycling: CBG Biotech has partnered with Triumvirate Environmental to provide small scale recycling units for xylene, ethanol and other commonly used laboratory solvents.
Packaging recycling: Many vendors will take back packaging materials. Some make it simple by pre-labeling their boxes to be returned to them at no charge (examples include Sigma Aldrich)
List of potential vendors:
- Chematix is a proven database that incorporates chemical procurement and disposal tracking. Website: http://www.chematix.com
- ChemSW is another online database that accurately displays real time inventory data. Website: http://www.chemsw.com/
- ChemTrack is currently being used by Lawrence Livermore National Labs. Website: chemtrack.llnl.gov
There are numerous academic and industrial research efforts being conducted to further develop viable green chemical processes. The search for new catalysts, biobased chemicals, more efficient lab protocols, and the ethical implications thereof are particularly prominent at the moment. Among these are:
Additional Green Chemistry References:
Beach, Evan. Advancing Green Chemistry. Drug makers: reuse solvents, reduce emissions. http://advancinggreenchemistry.org/?p=1357
Raymond, MJ, CS Slater and MJ Savelski. 2010. LCA approach to the analysis of solvent waste issues in the pharmaceutical industry. Green Chemistry 12:1826-1834.
PPRC.org. Supercritical Carbon-dioxide Cleaning Technology Review. July 1996. http://www.pprc.org/pubs/techreviews/co2/co2intro.html
International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, World Congress on Green Chemistry. Towards Environmentally Benign Products and Processes: Report of the Future Actions Committee (June, 2001)
California General Industrial Safety Orders, Sub-chapter 7 5203. Carcinogen Report of Use Requirements. Group 16. Control of Hazardous Substances, Article 110. Regulated Carcinogens (http://www.dir.ca.gov/title8/5203.html)
California Health and Safety Code, Section 44300 – 44309. Air-Chronic RELS, Air Toxins “Hot Spots” Information and Assessment Act of 1987 (http://www.oehha.ca.gov/air/chronic_rels/HSC44300.htm)
National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council, board on chemical science research and technology. Sustainability in the Chemical Industry: Grand Challenges and Research Needs – A Workshop Report(http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309095719)
University of Michigan. OESU: Chemical Tracking Program Pilot. http://www.p2000.umich.edu/chemical_waste/cw2.htm
UC Berkeley Center fro Green Chemistry: http://bcgc.berkeley.edu/
“The future belongs to those who give the next generation reason for hope.” – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Research Conducted By Alan Berkel and Stig Westling