New signs point to the promise in green chemistry

This month the legislatures in Vermont and Illinois made moves that serve to bolster the case for green chemistry.

Emery Cowan

June 18, 2014

2 Min Read
New signs point to the promise in green chemistry

Here at New Hope, we’ve been writing about the promise of green chemistry for a while, but for more proof that this eco-conscious, plant-based innovation represents the future of product development, take a look at recent news coming out of Vermont and Illinois.

In the brief lull between the passage of the nation’s first no-strings-attached GMO labeling bill and getting hit with a lawsuit challenging the law, Vermont lawmakers squeaked in another victory for consumer safety and transparency. Last week, Gov. Peter Shumlin signed into law what many are calling the strongest toxic chemical reform legislation in the nation. The law, though watered down from a stronger version, gives the state the power to regulate potentially harmful chemicals used in products sold to children. Seventh Generation was among the companies to recognize that the law is a mark in favor of the future of green chemistry.

“Seventh Generation celebrates this as an opportunity to further explore ‘green chemistry’ and drive innovation in this field,” the Burlington, Vermont-based company said in a press release.  

Scroll through some of these more notable dates in toxic chemical regulation and green chemistry history.

For a quick recap, green chemistry is a discipline that focuses on the design and manufacturing of chemicals in a way that reduces or eliminates the generation of toxics and waste. It focuses on the use of plant-based alternatives, improved energy efficiency during manufacturing, the use of renewable resources and the ability for materials to biodegrade.  

In another sign of public policy backing up trends toward this type of green innovation, on June 8 Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation banning microbeads in personal care products and over-the-counter drugs by 2019. Millions of the tiny beads have been found in the state’s lakes and waterways where they soak up toxins and cause damage to wildlife.

Johnson & Johnson, Unilever and L’Oreal have already recognized the shifting tide against these little plastic offenders and have created plans to phase out the microbeads in the next few years. They too are turning to green chemistry solutions, like mineral particles and fruit seeds, in the search for environmentally-friendly alternatives.

These states’ recent actions build on initiatives by other states to purge dangerous chemicals from products manufactured and sold within their bounds. A total of 22 states regulate toxic chemicals to a greater extent than the federal government, whose main chemical safety law, the Toxic Substances Control Act, hasn't been significantly revised since its passage in 1976.

While they’re still just a start, these moves by Vermont, Illinois and others signal that the triumph of natural, plant-based materials and ingredients over petrochemical-laden products is no longer only a narrative about novelty and innovation of the former. It’s becoming a story defined by irreversable decline of the latter, and the ability of companies to react.

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