Contributed by David Constable, Director, ACS Green Chemistry Institute®
The 250th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society is rapidly drawing to a close. As always, I am appreciative that there has been a fair amount of green chemistry and related programming at the meeting, although I have to add that it is a challenge for me to get to all of these sessions with the broad array of activities on offer.
At first glance, there are only about 8 sessions that have green chemistry in their title and these are mainly in the Environmental, Chemical Education, Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, and Organic Divisions. However, if you look past those sessions with green chemistry in the title, you find that there is a much larger number of sessions with talks that are clearly green chemistry-related. The other Divisions not mentioned in the first group include the Physical Chemistry, Agrochemicals, Energy and Fuels, Society Committee on Education, and Chemical Information. I hope that all the divisions will continue to integrate some sustainable and green chemistry programming into their National Meeting Programming efforts.
During the past few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to review the ACS Student Chapter nominations for a green chemistry award. All that’s required to win an award is to carry out 3 activities during the year that are, in some way, related to green chemistry. There were about 130 Chapters that submitted an application this year, so it took some time to go through all these and assess them. It is very exciting to read about all the things the student chapters are doing, and there are many excellent activities. One observation I will offer, however, is that there is great confusion between performing an environmental activity (e.g., picking up trash or starting a recycling program, etc.) and green chemistry. Environmental activities and environmental chemistry (e.g., a discussion about ozone depletion or climate change) are extremely worthwhile things for students to do, and these may inform why we want to do green chemistry, but they aren’t really green chemistry.
If, for example, the chapter took the fruits of its trash clean-up and analyzed it, thought about how to separate it, recycle it and reuse it all as starting materials/reactants, that would more likely qualify as a green chemistry activity.Or perhaps students might look at the plastic items and discover all the different types of plastic that are in what they have collected. Since most of it is likely to be water or other types of beverage bottles, they might investigate bio-based alternatives to polyester terephthalate and do a case study on the “Plantbottle” that Coke and others are working on. The possibilities are literally endless. There are so many opportunities to integrate sustainability and green thinking into chemistry precisely because the way we practice chemistry is anything but sustainable. I’d like to challenge the students to put a little more time into thinking about how chemistry can truly be a part of the solution to the world’s problems rather than accepting that the only way to do chemistry is the way chemists have been doing it for the past 100 or more years.
The next two days I will be participating in the Global Green Chemistry Centres (G2/C2) meeting being held at UMass, Boston. This is an initiative started by Professor James Clark of York University, U.K., and there are now about 31 Centers located around the world. Simply the fact that there are now 31 centers is a great indication of how green chemistry is being implemented around the world. I find it very encouraging that this network has grown from just a few centers in 2013 to 31 in 2015, and I can see that it will continue to grow. I am looking forward to hearing more about how the centers are implementing green chemistry practices in their Universities. It should be a very enjoyable meeting.
As always, please do let me know what you think.
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