Green Chemistry Examples

Interesting and Innovative Examples of Green Chemistry

Green chemistry seeks to use sustainable resources as well as reduce and prevent pollution.
Green chemistry seeks to use sustainable resources as well as reduce and prevent pollution. Geir Pettersen, Getty Images

Green chemistry seeks to develop products and processes that are kind to the environment. This can involve reducing the waste a process creates, using renewable materials, lessening the energy required to form a product, etc. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sponsors an annual challenge for the most innovative green chemistry inventions, plus you can find examples of green chemistry in many of the products you buy and use. Here are some interesting sustainable chemistry achievements:

Biodegradable Plastics

Plastics being developed from eco-friendly renewable sources, plus some modern plastics are biodegradable. The combination of innovations reduces our dependence on petroleum products, protects humans and wildlife from undesirable chemicals in old plastics, and reduces waste and impact on the environment.

  • Scientists at NatureWorks of Minnetonka, Minnesota, makes food containers from a polymer called polylactic acid, made using microorganisms to convert cornstarch into a resin. The resulting polymer is used to replace rigid petroleum-based plastic used in yogurt containers and water bottles.

Advances in Medicine

Pharmaceuticals are expensive to produce in part because of the complicated and exacting synthesis mechanisms required to produce some drugs. Green chemistry seeks to streamline production processes, reduce environmental impact of drugs and their metabolites, and minimize toxic chemicals used in reactions.

  • Professor Yi Tang, of the University of California, devised an improved synthesis process to make Zocor®, which is the brand name for the drug, Simvastatin, used to treat high cholesterol. The previous process used hazardous chemicals and released a large volume of toxic waste. Professor Tang's process uses an engineered enzyme and a low-cost feedstock. The company Codexis, then took the mechanism and optimized the enzyme and synthesis process so the drug could be manufactured more safely, less expensively, and with less of an environmental impact.

Research and Development

Scientific research employs a number of techniques that use hazardous chemicals and release waste into the environment. New greener processes keep research and tech on track, while making it safer, cheaper, and less wasteful.

  • Life Technologies developed a three-step, one-pot synthesis method for polymerase chain reaction (PCR), used in genetic testing. The new process is more efficient, consuming up to 95 percent less organic solvent and releasing up to 65 percent less waste compared with the conventional protocol. Using the new process, Life Technologies eliminates about 1.5 million pounds of hazardous waste each year.

Paint and Pigment Chemistry

Green paints go way beyond eliminating lead from formulations! Modern paints reduce toxic chemicals released as paints dry, substitute safer pigments for some poisonous colors, and reduce toxins when the paint is removed.

  • Procter & Gamble and Cook Composites and Polymers formulated a soya oil and sugar mixture to replace petroleum-derived paint resins and solvents. Formulations using the mixture release 50% fewer hazardous volatile compounds.
  • Sherwin-Williams created water-based acrylic alkyd paints that contain low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The acrylic paint is made from a mixture of acrylics, soybean oil, and recycled PET bottles.


Many of the processes used to make products relay on toxic chemicals or could be streamlined to reduce use of resources and release of waste. Green chemistry seeks to develop new processes and improve conventional production methods.

  • Faraday has developed a plating process to make high-performance chrome coatings from trivalent chromium instead of highly toxic hexavalent chromium.

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