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Green Chemistry

An Innovative Approach to Chemistry for NYS Schools

Schools in New York State are increasingly showing interest in greening their chemistry classrooms. Green Chemistry in schools enables teachers and students to utilize less-toxic materials in traditional chemistry experiments to demonstrate green chemistry principles. Green Chemistry classrooms:

  • Minimize hazardous exposures through environmentally benign reagents and solvents;
  • Educate teachers and students to consider the impacts of the chemicals they work with throughout their lifecycle;
  • Develop an understanding of sustainable practices;
  • Teach how decisions in the chemistry laboratory affects health and the environment;
  • Increases awareness of chemical toxicity.

Green Chemistry: a teacher's guide

In green chemistry, teachers assess the relative risks posed by the chemicals used in traditional chemistry experiments and select less-toxic materials to demonstrate green chemistry principles. By employing more environmentally benign reagents and solvents, green chemistry minimizes hazardous exposures that affect human health and the environment.

By adopting green chemistry, teachers and students learn to consider the impacts of the chemicals they work with throughout the chemical's life cycle, from use through disposal. In a green chemistry classroom, teachers and students alike will develop an:

  • Understanding of sustainability practices;
  • Understanding of how their decisions in the chemistry laboratory affect their health and the environment;
  • Increased awareness of chemical toxicity.

A green chemistry approach can save money for schools by reducing the number of toxic chemicals they need to purchase, as well as reducing the need to dispose of them as of hazardous waste.

Teaching green chemistry will deliver new ideas in science and technology that will expand sustainable practices. The next generation of students will be better prepared for future science and technology careers.

For external links to Green Chemistry experiments, modules and curriculums, which can be used in elementary through higher educational settings, please visit our resources page.

Check out our Conservationist Magazine Kids Green Chemistry issue!

The 12 Principles of Green Chemistry

Developed by Paul Anastas, PhD and John Warner, PhD, the following list outlines a conception of what would make a greener chemical, process, or product.

  1. Waste Prevention - It is better to prevent waste than to treat and clean up waste after it is formed.
  2. Atom Economy - Synthetic methods should be designed to maximize the incorporation of all materials used in the process into the final product.
  3. Less Hazardous Chemical Synthesis - Whenever practicable, synthetic methodologies should be designed to use and generate substances that possess little or no toxicity to human health and the environment.
  4. Designing Safer Chemicals - Chemical products should be designed to preserve efficacy of the function while reducing toxicity.
  5. Safer Solvents and Auxiliaries - The use of auxiliary substances (solvents, separations agents, etc.) should be made unnecessary whenever possible and, when used, innocuous.
  6. Design for Energy Efficiency - Energy requirements should be recognized for their environmental and economic impacts and should be minimized. Synthetic methods should be conducted to ambient temperature and pressure.
  7. Use of Renewable Feedstocks - A raw material or feedstock should be renewable rather than depleting whenever technically and economically practical.
  8. Reduce Derivatives - Unnecessary derivatization (blocking group, protection/deprotection, temporary modification of physical/chemical processes) should be avoided whenever possible.
  9. Catalysis - Catalytic reagents (as selective as possible) are superior to stoichiometric reagents.
  10. Design for Degradation - Chemical products should be designed so that at the end of their function they do not persist in the environment and instead breakdown into innocuous degradation products.
  11. Real-time Pollution Prevention - Analytical methodologies need to be further developed to allow for real-time in-process monitoring and control prior to the formation of hazardous substances.
  12. Safer Chemistry for Accident Prevention - Substance and the form of a substance used in a chemical process should be chosen so as to minimize the potential for chemical accidents, including releases, explosions and fires.

    Getting started on chemical inventory management

    Chemicals are an essential tool for science teachers educating students to meet NYS Science Learning Standards and Core Curriculum. When improperly managed, chemicals in schools can be dangerous to students, staff and the environment. Many schools have large inventories of chemicals that often include outdated and highly hazardous substances. To start managing chemicals:

    1. List the chemicals in an inventory, preferably with a computer system, and encourage sharing of chemicals among on-site laboratories where feasible;
    2. Organize the chemicals listed in the inventory;
    3. Remove and properly dispose of any old, outdated, or hazardous chemicals at least once per year;
    4. Replace with greener, least-toxic chemicals where feasible.

    For more information on managing chemical inventories, please see our School Chemical Management page or reach out to us via email.

    Information on case studies

    NYSDEC was previously awarded a grant by the Region 2 United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to influence behavioral change in New York State schools by providing assistance in chemical management, inventorying and providing green chemistry training to high school science teachers at several locations. A green chemistry candidate school was selected in each locality to feature as a case study in this project. The project was a collaborative effort with the NYS Education Department (SED) and the Board of Cooperative Extension Services (BOCES). To acquire a list of examples and case studies, please send us an email.

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