There are growing awareness and demand for Green Products and Green Cleaning in South Africa. This is positive and it should lead to cleaner, safer facilities, and homes while being benign to the environment.
There is, however, confusion and vagueness as to what Green Products actually are. Often I see false statements such as: "This product is totally green and contains no chemicals." Everything that you can touch and see is a combination of chemicals, all matter, in fact, are chemicals.
So all Green Products are chemicals, but they are formulated using the principles of green chemistry.
What is Green Chemistry?
The aim of Green chemistry is to design chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use and generation of substances that are dangerous to people or have a negative impact on the environment. Our goal, with green chemistry and innovative development and design, is to prevent pollution rather than having to treat pollution.
In 1998, Paul Anastas and John C. Warner developed a set of principles for green chemistry. These principles are applied in product design to develop greener products and processes.
The 12 Principles are as follows:
1) POLLUTION PREVENTION
As mentioned, the focus should be on the prevention of waste, not its clean-up and treatment.
2) ATOM ECONOMY
As much as possible of the materials used in the process of making a product should be in the final product. In this way, because most of the material is in the final product, we will have as little as possible waste and by-products.
3) LESS HAZARDOUS SYNTHESIS
Wherever possible, methods should be designed to use and generate materials and products that have little or no toxicity to humans and the environment.
4) DESIGN SAFER CHEMICALS
We aim to reduce toxicity while ensuring that the efficacy and effectiveness of the chemical are preserved.
5) SAFER SOLVENTS AND AUXILIARIES
The use of auxiliary substances, such as solvents and separations agents, are minimized and made unnecessary whenever possible. They should be innocuous when used.
6) DESIGN FOR ENERGY EFFICIENCY
The chemical products should be made at ambient temperature and pressure. In this way, we save energy and make the process safer.
7) USE OF RENEWABLE RAW MATERIALS OR FEEDSTOCKS
Renewable raw materials are used wherever possible.
8) REDUCE DERIVATIVES
The use of derivatives is a technical process during the synthesis of certain chemicals and when used requires additional reagents that can lead to increased waste and by-products. Where possible derivatives are reduced.
Catalytic reagents reduce the energy required for a reaction and are not consumed in the reaction and so can be used repeatedly.
10) DESIGN FOR DEGRADATION
Chemical products should be able to degrade after use and do not remain in the environment. Any degradation should be in a way that is safe for humans and the environment.
11) REAL-TIME ANALYSIS FOR POLLUTION PREVENTION
Real-time in-process monitoring and control should take place to prevent the formation of hazardous substances in order to prevent pollution.
12) INHERENTLY SAFER CHEMISTRY FOR ACCIDENT PREVENTION
The choice of safer materials reduces the risk of chemical accidents such as releases, explosions, and fires.
For a product to be considered Green Chemistry, it must be more environmentally safe than the alternatives; and needs to be economically viable, and must work as well or better than the existing alternative products.
If approached correctly, green chemistry can promote growth and development while also ensuring a safe and cleaner environment.