Monday, August 16, 2010

Chemical sunsetting: the dawn of "less"?

I’ve been thinking about the idea of chemical sunsetting (ie, the phasing out of certain harmful substances – see the POPs list for example). When getting rid of one substance, do you automatically replace it with something else? And if so, do you conduct an alternatives assessment to make sure the replacement is not equally bad? OR, as an alternative to that scenario, can something be “sunset” and not replaced? Can we live with less?

As new toxins are “discovered” in the midst of our daily lives (discovered here means covered by the media*), will consumers demand more “sunsets” of toxic substances? When one plastic item (say, toy jewelry) is found to contain lead, and then the supplier responds by switching to another heavy metal like cadmium, will the consumer at some point decide they don’t need plastic jewelry for their children?

2011 is the UN-designated “International Year of Chemistry.” I salute the green chemists out there and hope that 2011 will be a great year for advancing greener products, discovering alternatives to toxic substances, and finding uses of more natural (non-synthetic) materials. I also hope it will be a great year for realizing that we can all probably use less stuff.

*In the absence of regulation for transparent labeling for many types of products, it often takes the media to uncover or “out” the substances. Toys do not come with a nutrition label, nor do many of the other items we come into contact with every day.

1 comment:

  1. Having been a chemist and having worked for a for-profit company, it is ahrd to beleive that most companies won't try to replace teh product. One example in my career was the replacement on lead glazes for dinnerware with non-lead alternatives. It did happen because we need dinnerware that is washable and can stand up to wear and tear. The replacement didn't give quite teh durability but it finally was accepted by the industry.

    In another case, a colleague of mine worked for a comapny that made the inside linings for soft drinks cans, or beer cans. He tried to find products that would still crosslink into a non-permeable membrane for the cans instead of the ones that had been used. He even tried egg whites but was not successful. I'm not sure where that project ended.

    The ideas of "less" and even "slowing down" sound good to me, but don't fit our market oriented economy and culture.