The 12 Principles of Green Chemistry, first developed by Paul Anastas and John Warner in 1998 in Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice, established a framework for professionals to implement Green Chemistry in the creation and manufacture of consumer and industrial products.
The Environmental Protection Agency of the United States promotes these principles from the perspective of commercial production and government enforcement, but the EPA does not account for the viewpoint of the consumer.
Now that green and sustainable are part of everyday vocabulary and purchase considerations, it is appropriate to view several of these 12 principles from the perspective of consumers.
While some of the principles refer to technical aspects of chemical engineering and production, the following five principles are the most relevant. Here is how they may become part of consumers’ daily behaviors of buying, usage and disposal.
1. It is better to prevent waste than to treat or clean up waste after it has been created. As a consumer, buy items with less packaging. Recycle plastic shopping bags and use canvas, nylon or string shopping bags. This behavior will reduce the accumulation and disposal of cardboard, boxes, plastic bags and other related materials.
5. The use of auxiliary substances (e.g., solvents, separation agents, etc.) should be made unnecessary wherever possible and innocuous when used. Use environmentally friendly cleansers for household chores, laundry and personal hygiene.
6. Energy requirements of chemical processes should be recognized for their environmental and economic impacts and should be minimized. Moderate energy usage. Use alternative energy sources, such as solar power, to heat homes and generate electricity. If you drive to work, use a hybrid automobile and organize neighbors and co-workers into carpools. For those who do not commute by car, share taxicabs, use public transportation, walk and bike to go to work and run errands.
7. A raw material or feedstock should be renewable rather than depleting whenever technically and economically practicable. Select organic and renewable items over processed goods.
10. 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. Compost food products and organic materials to be broken down and returned to the earth. Recycle paper products, glass, cans and other materials for reuse.
Companies in diverse industrial sectors (many that consumers never hear about) have already adopted these principles. An excellent program managing emissions is VECAP (Voluntary Emissions Control Action Programme). This global initiative brings manufacturers and their customers together to jointly advance product stewardship and environmental responsibility.
Additionally companies are investing millions of dollars in research and development to bring new generations of greener solutions that are replacing current products. Green Chemistry principles clearly are important for businesses as as well as consumers.
Over time, incorporating greater sensitivity to the environment into the selection, purchase and discarding of ordinary items, plus the moderate use of energy, can become second nature. The principles of Green Chemistry apply to everyone.