The widespread use of toxic chemicals – in everything from industrial plants to baby bottles – is threatening our health and environment. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Leading American businesses are showing that they can reduce or eliminate the use of toxic chemicals, keeping them out of our air, water, land and food. Through innovation, businesses can design manufacturing processes and products to be safe, following the principles of green chemistry.
This report highlights 14 businesses that are identifying unnecessary hazards in their facilities, in their manufacturing processes and in the products they sell – and acting to eliminate them. In the process, these businesses are creating green jobs and strengthening the economy.
However, because of weaknesses in current chemical regulation, many companies are continuing to depend on dangerous chemicals when safer alternatives exist. Stronger policies can do more to promote the invention and deployment of green chemistry innovations, protecting our environment and our health while helping U.S. industries to thrive in the 21st century.
Green chemistry is an approach businesses can use to reduce the use of toxic chemicals, make products safer and prevent pollution.
- Traditionally, designers have failed to fully consider the risks posed by their products. From leaded gasoline to toxic additives in plastics, many products have ended up causing widespread damage.
- In contrast, green chemistry emphasizes the design of chemicals, processes and goods that cause little or no harm to our health or environment during manufacturing, use or disposal.
While protecting public health and the environment, green chemistry can also help businesses drive revenues, reduce costs, and avoid risks.
- By reducing the use of toxic chemicals, green chemistry can help businesses create new markets and new revenue streams; reduce raw material needs, cut waste, drive down energy costs, lower the cost of compliance with environmental regulations, minimize the cost of disposing of hazardous materials, reduce exposure to potential liability, and improve a company’s branding and reputation. All of these are important for a company’s bottom line.
Leading companies across America are starting to realize the potential of green chemistry. For example:
- True Textiles manufactures a fabric product made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled polyester and corn. The fabric, called Terratex, is naturally stain resistant and durable without the use of substances that pose health risks, such as toxic stain repellents. In 2006, the company estimated that the Terratex manufacturing process saves on the order of $300,000 per year compared to conventional fabric manufacturing methods.
- The pharmaceutical company Pfizer worked with startup Codexis to simplify the process of manufacturing the cholesterol management drug Lipitor. Smarter approaches like this can reduce waste generation in drug manufacturing by as much as 50 to 90 percent, reducing the use of toxic ingredients and potentially saving the pharmaceutical industry billions of dollars on energy, raw materials and waste disposal.
- SC Johnson deployed a screening system that enabled it to reduce volatile organic chemical emissions from Windex by 1.8 million pounds per year, while designing a formula that cleans 30 percent better.
- BASF and Procter & Gamble each invented technology to reduce the contribution of paint to smog and unhealthy air quality in America’s cities, positioning the companies to capture a greater share of the paint market while helping their customers comply with air quality regulations.
- These are not the only companies that have had success in replacing toxic chemicals with safer methods and materials. Other companies as diverse in size and scope as Apple, Seagate, Hewlett-Packard, Walmart, Johns Manville, and Headwaters Technology Innovation Group have made important advances, profiled in this report, that will benefit our health and environment.
However, these examples are still the exception rather than the rule. State and federal governments are not doing enough to promote alternatives to toxic chemicals. Better policies can accelerate the development and deployment of smart green chemistry solutions. Reforms should:
- Increase access to information. By requiring manufacturers to study and share information about the potential health or environmental hazards of chemical ingredients and products, consumers can better know what ingredients are in a product and evaluate the relative safety of alternative chemicals or product designs – and thus give manufacturers a strong incentive to choose safer designs.
- Require safer alternatives. Developing non-toxic alternatives is a capital-intensive enterprise, and under current policy, there is no assurance that manufacturers will elect to use them. A rule requiring the phase-out of toxic chemicals as safer alternatives are established for particular uses would give entrepreneurs and investors the right market assurances spurring a major leap in the development of such alternatives.
- Ensure that polluters pay. One of the reasons that toxic chemicals are still widely viewed as “economical” is that manufacturers are never required to bear the full health and environmental costs that toxic chemicals impose. Policies that internalize at least some of these costs – like restoring the polluter pay fee to Superfund – help restore balance to the playing field and allow non-toxic alternatives to compete on equal footing.
- In the absence of comprehensive federal action, states should create their own policies to achieve these objectives, as several states have already begun to do.