What Is Green Chemistry? Definition & Relation to Source Reduction

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  • 0:07 What Is Green Chemistry?
  • 2:18 Twelve Principles of…
  • 4:06 Benefits of Green Chemistry
  • 5:14 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Margaret Cunningham

Margaret has taught many Biology and Environmental Science courses and has Master's degrees in Environmental Science and Education.

Green is not just a color, but also a way of doing things. In this lesson, we will explore the technique of green chemistry and how it applies to the waste management industry.

What Is Green Chemistry?

Think about the phrases, green roofs, green housing, and green business. What do you think they all have in common? For all of these phrases, the term green is used to indicate that the item being described is more environmentally friendly or incorporates preservation of the environment and sustainable methods.

Many industries are trying to make their products and operations greener and more environmentally friendly. One technique being used is called green chemistry, which is when chemical products and processes are designed in a way that reduces the use or creation of hazardous substances. Green chemistry covers the entire life cycle of a chemical product and aims to reduce hazardous substances from the design process, manufacturing, use, and final disposal.

An example of green chemistry would be when a company replaces a hazardous chemical with something nonhazardous. Image a landscaping company that uses a hazardous substance to kill pests on their client's fruit trees. If this company replaced the hazardous substance with an environmentally friendly pesticide, they would be using green chemistry. The company would eliminate the release of the hazardous substance into the environment and help keep the environment healthy.

Green chemistry is an important concept to the waste management industry because it focuses on reducing the amount of waste created instead of simply focusing on how to handle waste that has already been created. Due to this focus, green chemistry helps with source reduction, which is when products are designed, manufactured, packaged, and used in a way that limits the amount or toxicity of waste created.

The first goal of source reduction is to reduce the overall amount of waste that is produced. The second goal is to conserve resources by not using raw, virgin materials. In other words, by following source reduction, fewer raw materials will have to be used to produce products. Green chemistry supports source reduction because it reduces the overall amount of hazardous substances used, which leads to a decrease in the hazardous waste produced and the need for raw materials to make hazardous substances.

Twelve Principles of Green Chemistry

Within green chemistry, there are twelve principles that are applied to help reduce the use or creation of hazardous substances. The principles range from basic guidelines to more complex chemical processes. The more basic principles include preventing the creation of waste, designing safer chemicals and products, designing synthetic methods that are less hazardous, using safer solvents and reactions, and minimizing the potential for accidents.

Some additional principles include increasing energy efficiency by running reactions at room temperature, designing chemicals and products that break down after use, analyzing chemical processing in real-time to prevent pollution, and using renewable feedstocks to reduce the risk of depleting the supply of raw materials. The more complex chemical principles include using catalysts instead of stoichiometric reagents, avoiding chemical derivatives, and maximizing atom economy. Let's investigate these three principles in a little bit more depth.

For the principle of using catalysts instead of stoichiometric reagents, catalysts are preferred because they are used in small amounts and can be used more than once, while stoichiometric reagents are used in large amounts and can only be used once. This principle reduces the overall amount of waste produced. For the principle of avoiding chemical derivatives, this also reduces overall waste because derivatives require additional reagents to work, and therefore, create more waste. For the final principle of maximizing atom economy, processes are designed in a way that uses the maximum amount of the raw materials to create the final product, thus resulting in less wasted atoms.

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