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Has the growing awareness of the reality and impacts of disposable plastic pollution finally started to change the marketplace? It seems that many factors are coming together to shift food packaging options away from plastic lately. Maybe this scenario rings true to you too:

 

A year or so ago, my favorite fast casual restaurant chain for lunchtime salads switched from plastic to fiber-based bowls and changed their plastic utensils to PLA compostable plastic. Not too long before, the American Chemical Society’s LEED Platinum certified office building where I work added compost bins on each floor, contracting with a composting company that is making significant inroads to offices all over Washington, DC.

 

In Maryland, where I live, the state recently passed a ban on polystyrene food containers, cups, egg cartons, vegetable trays and other items.

 

Even plastic straws seem to be disappearing from many establishments.

 

All of this seems like a positive step forward…but as members of the green and sustainable chemistry community, we have to remember to consider that all materials have their pros and cons and often a look at the whole picture reveals a more nuanced reality.

 

A deeper look into packaging alternatives is needed, and Safer Made’s recent report, Safer Materials in Food Packaging, presents a number of issues and design challenges. The report also highlights innovators in each area.

 

What Keeps that Salad Bowl from Seeping?

 

Getting away from plastic bowls and plates has generally meant moving to paper—or molded fiber. Molded fiber is biobased and can incorporate recycled paper and fiber products, providing an additional layer of sustainability. However, molded fiber alone does not provide an effective barrier to liquid, grease or air. To improve its properties, chemical additives or coatings are used, and many of these—as listed in Safer Made’s report—are chemicals of concern.

 

Making a big appearance on this list are all sorts of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Chemicals in this class persist in the environment and can accumulate in our bodies. The U.S. EPA cites evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse health outcomes in humans including reproductive and developmental issues. If these chemicals of concern are in packaging that ends up in a compost pile, they can also pose a risk at contaminating compost that may go back into the food production cycle.

 

Replacing Functions, Rather than Products

 

After many years of being burnt by substituting problematic chemicals with close relatives only to find they were not much better in the end, the focus is now shifting to looking for functional innovation. Instead of the focus being on replacing certain chemicals, a functional approach allows innovators to approach a problem with a wider perspective. For example, if an additive chemical is causing concern, it may be that a different starting material, design or technology, would negate the need for such an additive. To this end, the Safer Made report identifies three functional challenges at play in food packaging and three corresponding solution areas.

 

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Based on this approach, Safer Made further defined three broad innovation needs within food packaging: Alternatives to Petroleum-Based Plastics, Improved End-of-Life Functions, and Safer Functional Additives.

 

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Innovation in Fiber Food Packaging

 

Safer Made’s report gives many examples of companies working on food packaging innovations. I have highlighted a few examples that relate to safer and greener fiber-based packaging below—divided into design innovation and additives innovation.

 

Improving the design, material and manufacture of fiber

 

California company Ecologic is producing fiber-based containers in the standard shapes of home care, food and beverage bottles. Their design uses recycled cardboard and newspaper mixed with polymeric binding agents and molded into a bottle shell. Inside the shell is a separate, thin PE liner. At the end of use, the two pieces can be easily separated. The shell can be recycled or composted, while the liner can be recycled with plastic bags in most places. Compared to similar plastic bottles, this design uses up to 60-70% less plastic, and can be shipped to customers flat, which improves the shipping carbon footprint.

 

Melodea, an Israeli start up backed by Swedish and Brazilian pulp paper companies, is taking an entirely different approach. They are using cellulose from the paper industry’s waste pulp sludge to produce Cellulose Nano Crystals—materials that give structure to the cell walls of plants. One of the applications for this tough material is to strengthen biobased packaging. Melodea also wants to use this material to replace aluminum as a gas barrier coating in multi-laminate packaging (e.g., Tetra-Pak). This could improve the material’s ability to be recycled.

 

Improving water and oil resistance without harmful additives

 

Ahlstrom-Munksjö, a Finnish-based global company that has a large line of fiber-based packaging solutions, recently released Grease-Gard® FluoroFree® papers that provide grease-resistance for food wraps, clamshells, microwave popcorn bags, and fast-food products without the use of fluorochemicals.

 

Ultimately, packaging has to achieve its purpose of keeping food fresh and transportable to prevent food spoilage, while minimizing environmental waste (both in the production and disposal of the packaging), without causing unnecessary health concerns from chemicals leaching into food. Unless we all find a way to stop using single-use containers, innovation is urgently needed to achieve this deceivingly complex challenge for such everyday, mundane items.

 

As more consumers continue to demand safer and more eco-friendly products, innovation in this area is bound to grow. Companies like Safer Made, a venture capital fund that invests in companies and technologies that bring safer products to market, are helping to spur this innovation.

By David Constable, Science Director, ACS Green Chemistry Institute®

 

Take Action! Ask Congress to Support the Sustainable Chemistry R&D Act of 2019

 

We are delighted to see that U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), Susan Collins (R-ME), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) reintroduced the Sustainable Chemistry Research and Development Act of 2019 in early April. It was also encouraging to see a companion bill being introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressmen John Moolenaar (R-MI) and Dan Lipinski (D-IL).  Announcements about the Act may be found on Senator Coon’s webpage and Senator Collins’ webpage. A one-pager about the Act may also be found on Senator Coons’ webpage. Please do take a moment to familiarize yourself with this Act.

 

In Senator Coons’ words: “…The bipartisan Sustainable Chemistry Research and Development Act will create a cohesive vision for sustainable chemistry research and development, improve training and retraining of scientists and other professionals, and build new partnerships with the private sector. This is an exciting opportunity to maintain our scientific leadership and ensure the sustainability of our chemical enterprise for years to come.”

 

As some of you may know, attempts to pass a green or sustainable chemistry act in the U.S. Congress date back to 2005. It is critical for the green and sustainable chemistry community to mobilize and let your legislators know how important these Acts are to moving the U.S. towards a more sustainable future. Please let your legislators know that as a constituent, these Acts are important to you and worthy of their support!

By Krishna Padia, Green ChemisTree Foundation, Mumbai, India

 

GreenChemisTreeFoundationLogo.pngThe Green ChemisTree Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Mumbai, India. The Foundation works to increase technical knowledge in green chemistry in all sectors of the economy. Through outreach efforts, collaborations, conferences and educational initiatives, Green ChemisTree is playing a significant role in helping to grow green chemistry in India and beyond.

 

This impactful organization began just 11 years ago, when a small group of individuals got inspired by their participation in ACS Green Chemistry Institute’s Green Chemistry & Engineering (GC&E) Conferences. The founders of Green ChemisTree, Bhadresh Padia and Nitesh Mehta, attended the GC&E Conference for the first time in 2008, immediately after their visit to a premier chemical industry trade show in Europe. Exposure to both these coinciding events laid the foundation for Green ChemisTree.

 

At the chemical industry trade show, Bhadresh and Nitesh who were visiting the EXPO as technocrats, realized how the chemical manufacturing companies in India were gearing up for large-scale production of complex chemical synthesis, with little OR no apprehension of the environmental impact due to this expansion. While the manufacturing expansion was a great and timely opportunity for India, the accompanying environmental concerns were undeniable. With these thoughts and concerns in the back of their mind, they landed at the GC&E Conference at Washington, DC. It was a remarkable contrast—seeing diverse stakeholders from industry, academia, researchers, etc., coming together on a common platform with a single agenda to engage in the advancement of green chemistry and green engineering initiatives and practices.

 

It was at the GC&E Conference that they realized the answer to the environmental concerns of India’s burgeoning chemical manufacturing practices was green chemistry. They took home the possibility of creating a similar “ecosystem” in India, wherein diverse stakeholders would come together to recognize their individual and collective roles towards expanding the implementation of green chemistry and green engineering practices. This was the genesis of India’s flagship initiative – the Industrial Green Chemistry World (IGCW) Convention series, launched in 2009.

 

The IGCW Journey from Workshop to World

 

Paul-John.jpgIn 2009, the first IGCW was titled the “Industrial Green Chemistry Workshop” – launched under the aegis of “Fathers of Green Chemistry” – Paul Anastas and John Warner, who generously contributed their time and expertise to address 100+ senior leaders of Indian chemical Industry (pictured right). Over the years, the IGCW initiative has been evolved both literally as well as in its scope from being an “Industrial Green Chemistry Workshop” to an all-encompassing “Industrial Green Chemistry World”.

 

The IGCW Convention and Ecosystem, is now globally recognized as India’s premier platform, focusing on facilitating the implementation of GC&E practices in Indian Chemical Industry. It is uniquely designed to address the felt-need of the Industry’s GC&E requirements, connect diverse stakeholders such as Industry, Academia, Research Institutes, Regulatory bodies, Policy makers, etc. towards a common agenda of accelerating the implementation of GC&E in India.

 

igcw2019.jpgThe upcoming IGCW in October 2019, will be the 6th edition, incorporating 12 distinct dimensions (parallel events) across the two-day Convention. Each of these parallel events are subject-specific events, targeted to a focused audience for taking back maximum tangible value out of their participation.

 

david.jpgThere are an increasing number of case-studies and success stories that indicate how the IGCW platform is indeed serving as a facilitator for companies in India to initiate GC&E practices at various levels within their respective organisation.

 

The ACS GCI’s active involvement over the years, and particularly with consistent mentoring by the former Director and current Science Director, Dr. David Constable (pictured left), the IGCW platform has now emerged as a robust platform for the Indian Chemical Industry and beyond to explore, engage in and expand their GC&E strategies and practices.

 

 

IGCW Ecosystem participation since 2009

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Green ChemisTree Expanding its Branches and Deepening its Roots

 

Apart from the IGCW initiative, which happens once every two years, the Green ChemisTree Foundation has kept the Green Chemistry momentum active and accelerating in India through it various other deliberations – both locally and globally.

pictures-1.jpgAbove: Members of the ACS GCI Pharmaceutical Roundtable at the workshop in 2018.

 

One of it is the collaborative initiative with the ACS GCI Pharmaceutical Roundtable of co-organizing Green Chemistry capacity building Conferences and Workshops exclusively for the Pharma API manufacturing companies in India. This collaborative initiative has led to a palpable momentum in the adoption of GC&E practices in Indian Pharma API companies.

 

The sector-specific and region-centric Workshops has enabled the Foundation to intensify its reach out to small and medium sized chemical companies, which comprises nearly 70% of Indian chemical manufacturing industry.

The Foundation has also been consistently facilitating over the years focused Workshops for chemistry teachers, Ph.D. / masters students; and recently launched Green Chemistry Awareness programs at schools’ level.

 

studentbanner.jpgAbove: Workshops for teachers and students hosted by Green ChemisTree Foundation.

 

 

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Recognizing Green ChemisTree’s committed efforts, the Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering at Yale (CGCGE) in its collaboration with UNIDO to promote green chemistry around the world, invited Green ChemisTree Foundation to conduct a five-day “Train the Facilitators” program in Sri Lanka (pictured right).

 

With this escalating momentum of Green Chemistry in India, the Foundation has expanded the scope and depth of its activities. One of the upcoming promises of the Foundation is to create a web portal cum app listing relevant environmental, green chemistry & green engineering solution providers from across the globe, easily accessible by Indian chemical industry.

 

To know more about Green ChemisTree or to get involved with the Foundation’s ongoing activities, you can write to connect@industrialgreenchem.com.

With the GC&E/GSC-9 Conference only a month and a half away, we caught up with Co-Chairs, Prof. Philip Jessop (Queen’s University) and Prof. Joan Brennecke (University of Texas at Austin) to ask them for highlights and insights on the program.

 

What are you looking forward to at this year’s Conference?

 

JB: I’m really looking forward to the tremendous diversity that we’re going to have at this year’s conference. Since it is both the 23rd Annual Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference AND the 9th International Conference on Green and Sustainable Chemistry, we’ll have researchers and practitioners from around the globe. Presentations will range from very fundamental to product commercialization. There will be representatives from a variety of industries, as well as academic researchers from numerous fields. I hope this will create a lively venue for cross-fertilization and inspiration. 

 

PJ: I agree. I’m also looking forward to the extra diversity that we hope to get from the combined event, and the combination benefits from the different foci of those two conference series. The more North American, industrial and applied chemistry aspects of the Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference, and the more international, academic and basic science aspects of the International Conference on Green and Sustainable Chemistry. Combining these different topics makes for a better conference AND better green chemistry! Solving the plastic waste problem, for example, needs a collaboration between the users of polymers in industry and the academics doing fundamental molecular redesign. One working without the other will never get the job done!

 

Why is the Conference theme of “Closing the Loop” important to chemistry and engineering?

 

PJ: The plastic waste problem that’s hitting the headlines these days is symptomatic of the damage caused by a throw-it-away society. We need to transform into a society based upon re-use and recycle, just like nature where even wastes like animal dung are vital and beneficial to the system. That means a complete redesign of our society, starting with our chemistry and engineering.

 

JB: Closing the loop means several things in the context of green chemistry and engineering. Most importantly, it means understanding how green chemistry and engineering innovations impact the whole system. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and other tools are key to this understanding. It also means better use of chemicals and materials, through reuse, recycle and repurposing. Finally, it means advancing fundamental scientific discoveries to innovation and commercialization, which will then create new fundamental green chemistry and engineering questions. All of these are important to chemistry and engineering because they form the basis of a more sustainable chemical enterprise, which is necessary for a more sustainable planet.

 

How can student attendees get the most out of the conference?

 

JB: The first thing that students should do is attend the student workshop on Monday.  If a student has ever had the slightest interest in starting a company to commercialize a green chemistry or engineering product or process, they absolutely must attend this workshop. The second thing they need to do is talk to people – other students, speakers whose work interests them, industry representatives, etc. That’s what all the networking breaks are all about.  You never know – you might find your postdoc advisor or your next job during Green Chemistry on Tap!  Finally, study the program ahead of time and plan your schedule so that you don’t miss any of the talks that you find interesting. 

 

PJ: Don’t focus on the details – they're not important. Focus on the bigger picture of each talk. Why (and how) did the speaker select this particular problem to work on? How did the speaker assess whether their proposed solution is greener than what was done before? In terms of the science, those are the two most important things you can take away from the Conference. Also don’t be afraid to approach speakers afterwards, such as during coffee breaks. Ask them about how they make such decisions. Collect the answers to those questions and use them to guide your own research in the future.

With the ACS National Meeting receding in the rearview mirror, we are rapidly accelerating toward the 23rd Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference/9th International Conference on Green and Sustainable Chemistry in just over six weeks! The ACS Spring National Meeting in Orlando featured outstanding green chemistry programming across multiple divisions, including sessions on “Innovative Green Chemistry: Striving Toward Zero Waste API Manufacturing,” “Green Chemistry Student Chapters: Stories of Success,” and “UN Sustainable Development Goals: Unique Opportunities for the Chemical Enterprise.” In addition, ACS GCI recognized more than 70 ACS student chapters for their green chemistry activities. Congratulations to this year’s Green Chemistry Student Chapters!

 

It has been a pleasure working with Joan Brennecke of the University of Texas at Austin and Philip Jessop of Queen’s University, Canada, to organize the 23rd Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference in conjunction with the 9th International Conference on Green and Sustainable Chemistry. We invite you to join hundreds of scientists and engineers in Reston, Virginia from June 11-13 to share your research, network with colleagues, and learn about the latest developments in green chemistry and engineering. April 30th is the last day for early bird registration—so register today to help close the loop on the chemical life cycle.

 

Related to the theme of this year’s conference is the upcoming Chemical Sciences Roundtable workshop on “Closing the Loop on the Plastics Dilemma,” which will be held at the National Academies Keck Center in Washington, DC on May 9-10. Our friend and colleague Eric Beckman of the University of Pittsburgh is the keynote speaker at this workshop, which features sessions on mechanical recycling, chemical and biological recycling, and designing plastics for the future. Abstracts for the poster session are being accepted through today, April 26.

 

Finally, we are looking forward to joining the U.S. EPA in honoring the winners of the 2019 Green Chemistry Challenge Awards with a ceremony and reception starting at 5 p.m. on June 10 at EPA in Washington, DC. Please RSVP to gci@acs.org if you would like to attend this event!

 

 

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