More about green chemistry

Chemist

Green chemistry and design is formulating or designing a new product (or reformulating or redesigning an existing one) to reduce environmental, workplace, human health, and energy use impacts over the product's entire life-cycle. Product life cycle includes design, production of material and energy inputs, production, end use, end-of-life recovery, and all packaging and transportation between these steps.

Green chemistry and design is a process spanning many disciplines and functions. The green chemistry and design process should consider all of the 12 principles in the Green Chemistry and Green Engineering frameworks conceived by Paul Anastas and collaborators, and use as many of those principles as possible.

These frameworks are attractive since they combine preventive approaches, life-cycle considerations, awareness of toxicological effects and how to design them out at all levels (including molecular), life-cycle energy intensity of production and use of a product, and enhanced recovery of material value of a product at the end of its life (recyclability).

Through the use of green chemistry and design and other pollution prevention (P2) techniques, MPCA and its partners, including companies, will move toward their shared goals of:

  • improving Minnesota’s environment.
  • improving the profitability and competitiveness of Minnesota products.
  • ensuring the sustainability and productivity of Minnesota’s economy and ecosystems.

Green chemistry and design is pollution prevention (P2)

Green chemistry and design is the product design/formulation step at the top of the P2 hierarchy that MPCA and its partners have been implementing since Minnesota’s 1990 Toxic Pollution Prevention Act. Being at the top of the hierarchy suggests a greater degree of difficulty, and that is reflected in the history of P2. While that history has seen many successes, more of those have been in improving the process for manufacturing products rather than redesigning the products themselves.

Design is key to the function, meaning, and appeal of products used every day by people throughout the world. It has long been recognized as a critical stage for determining costs and profitability. Once a product is designed, its environmental impacts are largely fixed. It is important, therefore, that green design tools be applied early on in the product realization process at a stage where designers have the biggest influence on environmental impacts. For those who bring shape to our physical world by designing products, it is also an unparalleled window of opportunity to distinguish products while championing the environment through innovation.

MPCA began promoting product redesign in 1999 through the development of the Design for Environment Toolkit and the Better By Design guide in 2006.

MPCA also has funded green design projects with Minnesota manufacturers such as:

As it does with its ongoing P2 program, MPCA intends to apply the green chemistry and design focus across the Minnesota economy, working with any industrial, commercial, or retail companies willing to undertake product changes.

Implementing the 2009 Minnesota Toxic Free Kids Act

The 2009 Toxic Free Kids Act assigned MPCA to:

  • Support the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) in preparing a list of chemicals of high concern and a subset of priority chemicals.
  • By December 2010, recommend policy options for regulating priority chemical use.
  • By December 2010, present options for promoting green chemistry within Minnesota.

The MPCA and MDH joint report to the Legislature was completed December 2010:

See the MDH lists of Priority Chemicals and Chemicals of High Concern.

Efforts such as these in Minnesota are related to initiatives at the national level which are commonly referred to as TSCA reform, revision of the U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act. The general purpose of these national efforts is to provide more transparency as to chemicals present in products and to regulate the highest priority chemicals. 

Two proposals are in play in the 113th Congress.

  • S. 1009, the Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013 (Senators Lautenberg and Vitter; introduced May 22, 2013): see the text – this is a uniquely bipartisan proposal.
  • S. 696, the Safe Chemicals Act of 2013 (Senators Lautenberg and Gillibrand, reintroduced April 10, 2013): see the text – essentially the same as S. 847 introduced in 2011.

For recent context, TSCA reform legislation was introduced in the 111th Congress (in the Senate by Lautenberg S. 3209, and in the House by Waxman and Rush H.R. 5820). In the 112th Congress, Senator Lautenberg introduced another TSCA reform bill (S. 847) co-sponsored by Senators Klobuchar and Franken of Minnesota, Boxer of California, and Schumer of New York. See a summary of the bill. From the point of view of health and environment advocacy, Richard Denison of EDF produced a side-by-side comparison of the 2010 and 2011 bills.