It's Getting Easier to Be Green

February 11, 2011
Laura Bush

Laura Bush is the Editor in Chief for BioPharm International

LCGC North America

LCGC North America, LCGC North America-02-01-2011, Volume 29, Issue 2
Page Number: 112

For most of us, change isn't easy. Anyone who has tried to kick an ingrained habit knows this. I've been saying for years that I should give up diet cola, but it hasn't happened yet. (Actually, it did happen once, and then I started up again. Sigh.)

For most of us, change isn't easy. Anyone who has tried to kick an ingrained habit knows this. I've been saying for years that I should give up diet cola, but it hasn't happened yet. (Actually, it did happen once, and then I started up again. Sigh.)

For more complex changes, there are a variety of other factors involved, beyond the psychological ones that affect personal behaviors. The challenges of adopting more environmentally friendly practices, at home or in the laboratory, present a good example of this.

Cost, for example, is an important consideration. "Green" options often are, or at least appear to be, more expensive than the alternatives. Yet comparing the true costs of standard and green approaches often requires looking at long-term effects that reach beyond oneself or one's company. For example, a t-shirt made from organically grown cotton may have a higher pricetag than one produced from cotton grown using pesticides. But if the pesticides pollute drinking water, or give people cancer (through environmental or workplace exposure), environmental cleanup or medical treatment will be required. We might bear the financial burden of those remedies indirectly, if the government or company involved passes them on to us through higher prices or taxes, but their poor visibility can make it hard for us to choose a green option that has higher direct costs.

Then, once one commits to the investment of time and money to go green, the next step is to sort out what steps to take. Often, people who don't really want to make the effort will question whether alternative methods truly are better for the environment, simply to delay or obfuscate. But making the right choices can indeed be complicated.

Fortunately, when it comes to applying green concepts to the rigors of analytical chemistry, help is available. As Majors and Raynie explain in this month's "Sample Prep Perspectives" column (p. 118), several organizations have developed helpful rubrics for assessing the environmental impact of analytical methods. For example, the American Chemical Society's Green Chemistry Institute has developed a set of four "greenness criteria" that have been used to evaluate many of the methods listed on the website of the United States National Environmental Methods Index (nemi.gov). The alternative "Green Assessment Summary" incorporates similar criteria, but includes energy consumption. Majors and Raynie provide clear examples of how to apply these assessments.

But even without using a scorecard, the authors explain, one can begin to implement green chemistry simply by seeking analytical methods that reduce or eliminate hazardous substances. In chromatography, particularly in reversed-phase LC and HILIC, the simplest way to do that is to use smaller columns that require less solvent as the mobile phase. But because capillary and nano-scale columns are not the norm, other approaches may be needed, such as identifying alternative solvents, or reducing solvent consumption in the mobile phase by altering experimental conditions. (See the column to learn about the status of these efforts).

The use of hazardous solvents also can be reduced in sample preparation. Furusawa (p. 162), for example, has developed a rapid and environmentally friendly method of sample preparation, followed by reversed-phase HPLC with diode-array detection, to quantify melamine in milk. No organic solvents are used at any stage of the analysis, and the total analytical time is <20 min for each sample. In addition, the method is inexpensive. Sometimes, it seems, green methods can be easy, fast, and cheap.

As with any important change, implementing green analytical chemistry certainly requires effort and commitment. But with help like this, it is getting easier.

Laura Bush

Laura Bush Editorial Director lbush@advanstar.com

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