While researching an article on Green Chemistry for the upcoming Non-Toxic Times (which, keep your fingers crossed, will come out next week), I stumbled across an entry on the same subject in the ever amazing Wikipedia that contained something I didn’t know existed: a set of principles to guide chemists in greening their labs and the things those labs create.
Principles, of course, are always a good thing because they set certain benchmarks and establish concrete guidelines for whatever it is we’re trying to do. Whenever a decision comes up as we proceed, we can compare all our possible choices to the principles at hand. When we do, we often find that there’s no decision to be made at all. The principles make it for us. They may even suggest that we drop the current operation entirely and try something else.
In the case of green chemistry, the 12 principles were created to steer chemists away from toxic substances and processes, and encourage healthier alternatives. I can’t for a moment pretend to know what some of these are about. (“Stoichiometric reagents, for example, is a pretty scary term. I think I had a beaker or two of that at a really ugly frat party once…), but than again why should I? They’re not for me. They’re for the people who are actually out there mixing up the molecules. The people who need to stop messing with nature and start working with it instead. They’re only for you and I in the sense that as they ripple through the chemical community, they’ll eventually trickle down to us in the form of safer, healthier, non-toxic alternatives to today’s hazardous products and processes. You’ll never use them yourself, but you will someday end up using the stuff they lead to, and we’ll all be a lot healthier for it.