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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Pollution Prevention 101: Green Chemistry & Engineering

Resources for pollution prevention (P2) technical assistance providers. Geared particularly toward those new to the P2 field.

Green Chemistry Basics

Green chemistry, also known as sustainable chemistry, is the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances. Green chemistry applies across the life cycle of a chemical product, including its design, manufacture, and use.

The Twelve Principles of Green Chemistry

  1. Prevention -- It’s better to prevent waste than to treat or clean up waste afterwards.
  2. Atom Economy -- Design synthetic methods to maximize the incorporation of all materials used in the process into the final product.
  3. Less Hazardous Chemical Syntheses -- Design synthetic methods to use and generate substances that minimize toxicity to human health and the environment.
  4. Designing Safer Chemicals -- Design chemical products to affect their desired function while minimizing their toxicity.
  5. Safer Solvents and Auxiliaries -- Minimize the use of auxiliary substances wherever possible make them innocuous when used.
  6. Design for Energy Efficiency -- Minimize the energy requirements of chemical processes and conduct synthetic methods at ambient temperature and pressure if possible.
  7. Use of Renewable Feedstocks -- Use renewable raw material or feedstock rather whenever practicable.
  8. Reduce Derivatives -- Minimize or avoid unnecessary derivatization if possible, which requires additional reagents and generate waste.
  9. Catalysis -- Catalytic reagents are superior to stoichiometric reagents.
  10. Design for Degradation -- Design chemical products so they break down into innocuous products that do not persist in the environment.
  11. Real-time Analysis for Pollution Prevention -- Develop analytical methodologies needed to allow for real-time, in-process monitoring and control prior to the formation of hazardous substances.
  12. Inherently Safer Chemistry for Accident Prevention -- Choose substances and the form of a substance used in a chemical process to minimize the potential for chemical accidents, including releases, explosions, and fires.

Sustainable Chemistry Hierarchy

Chemical products and processes should be designed to the highest level of this hierarchy and be cost-competitive in the market.

  1. Green Chemistry: Source Reduction/Prevention of Chemical Hazards
    • Design chemical products to be less hazardous to human health and the environment*
    • Use feedstocks and reagents that are less hazardous to human health and the environment*
    • Design syntheses and other processes to be less energy and materials intensive (high atom economy, low E-factor)
    • Use feedstocks derived from annually renewable resources or from abundant waste
    • Design chemical products for increased, more facile reuse or recycling
  2. Reuse or Recycle Chemicals
  3. Treat Chemicals to Render Them Less Hazardous
  4. Dispose of Chemicals Properly

Chemicals that are less hazardous to human health and the environment are:

  • Less toxic to organisms and ecosystems
  • Not persistent or bioaccumulative in organisms or the environment
  • Inherently safer with respect to handling and use

EPA Safer Choice Program

Risk Assessment Tools

EPA uses risk assessment to characterize the nature and magnitude of health risks to humans (e.g., residents, workers, recreational visitors) and ecological receptors (e.g., birds, fish, wildlife) from chemical contaminants and other stressors, that may be present in the environment.

The tools below are designed to help users evaluate the risks of specific chemicals.