Green Chemistry and its role in a sustainable world
– Part 1 -
Dr Arati Ningombam,, Dr Romila Akoijam, Dr Laishram Kanta Singh, Dr Ch Basudha Devi, Dr Ch Sonia, Dr Ch Premabati *
Modern humans, aka Homo sapiens, maybe the most intelligent species on Earth; however, we are undoubtedly its worst polluter. Humans have relied on large-scale mass production and industrial manufacturing to further progress and develop the human race and produce more food to feed the growing population.
This is especially true considering efforts to improve crop protection, commercial products, medicines and drugs, and the use of different chemicals to achieve the intended target. Unfortunately, this continued without pause for many decades; there is no denying that the long-term sustainability of the planet’s health: seas and land resources was compromised and disregarded formore superficial short-term goals.
However, by the mid-twentieth century, some of the long-term negative consequences of these advances could no longer be denied and ignored. Closer home, the best example would be the heavy use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers during the Indian Green Revolution to achieve self-sufficiency in foodgrain production. The Punjab belt formed the main focus of the Indian Green revolution during the mid-1960s.
It has been highlighted for its unsustainable crop production system, including bio-accumulation, bio-magnification of pesticide residues, compromising human health and break down in soil fertility and health, as a learning lesson for all. Globally, many of the world’s water bodies were polluted, and acid rain harmed forest health. There were visible holes in the Earth’s ozone layer.
Some commonly used chemicals have been suspected of causing or being directly implicated in causing cancer and other severe human and environmental health outcomes. As a result, many Governments began regulating the industrial waste generation, disposal, and emissions. In Manipur, waste disposal and recycling are a constant headache, like in any growing city.
Pollution has become a direct by-product of modem lifestyle and industrialisation. There is no escaping it. The Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR) is a United Nations publication aiming to strengthen the science-policy interface at the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development, the central United Nations platform providing political leadership and guidance on sustainable development issues at the international level.
It is one of the only two mandated reports to inform the decision-making process at the HLPF. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals adopted by world leaders in September 2015 set a vision for a world free of poverty, hunger, disease and want. In addition, SDG 3, “Good Health and Well-Being,” calls on countries to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are 17 goals with 169 targets that all 191 UN Member States have agreed to try to achieve by the year 2030. In all the 17 goals, the keyword is “Sustainability”. The health of our planet Earth, our surroundings-both land and water, the quality of the air we breathe, and the safety of the food we eat-free of toxic chemicals-all play an essential role in our survival and quality of life as humans and for our future generations.
Without health, wealth cannot be enjoyed. In this context, the term green chemistry comes into the limelight. According to the American Chemical Society, “Green Chemistry is not politics. Green Chemistry is not a public relations ploy. Green chemistry is not a pipe dream. Green Chemistry is the future of Chemistry.” Green chemistry is the design of products and processes reducing or eliminating hazardous substances.
Green Chemistry is a subset of Design for Environment applying innovative scientific solutions to product manufacturing. Its engineering counterpart is called Green Engineering. Together they are the driving force that can bring a paradigm shift in invention, design and manufacturing products.
Green Chemistry supports sustainability by making chemicals safe for our health and environment, using industrial processes that reduce or eliminate hazardous chemicals, and designing more efficient processes that minimise waste. Green chemistry would mean preventing pollution before it happens rather than cleaning up the mess later.
In addition, it saved companies money by using less energy and fewer/ safer chemicals, thus reducing costs (from managing industrial waste/effluents) and impacts of pollution. It would also help mitigate climate change, water and resource depletion while meeting growing demands for safer food and cleaner energy.
The United Nations projects the global population to reach 8.6 billion in 2030, 9.8 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100, with food demand growing by 60% (UN., 2017). Providing adequate food and dietary proteins to an increasing global population without harming the environment is challenging.
According to the United Nations World Food Programme (UNWFP), acute food insecurity affected 135 million people in 55 countries in 2019, and one in three suffer from some form of malnutrition. The Global Nutrition Report is the world’s leading independent assessment of the state of global nutrition. It is dataled and produced each year to highlight progress and challenges.
The Global Nutrition Report (2020) reports that the coronavirus pandemic has further aggravated the food crisis. The availability of healthy, nutritious food in an equitable, sustainable manner is the urgent need of the hour. `The 2022 Global Nutrition Report : Stronger Commitments for Greater Action’ sets out the role of accountability and its ability to transform action to tackle the nutrition crisis.
After analysing the hard work underway, the report emphasises the role of every stakeholder to demonstrate why coordination is the only way sustainable nutrition outcomescan be delivered. In keeping with the SDG, the United Nations General Assembly, at its 75th session in March 2021, declared 2023 the International Year of Millets (IYM 2023). Millets can grow on and lands with minimal inputs and are resilient to changes in climate.
The #1YM2023 will promote the sustainable production of millets while highlighting their potential to provide new sustainable market opportunities for producers and consumers. Here also, in agricultural crop production, the keyword is sustainability from farm to fork throughout crop cultivation.
It may start right from choosing climate-resilient crop varieties to using safer, eco-friendly agricultural inputs (as alternatives to synthetic chemical fertilisers and pesticides) until the food reaches the serving plate at our dining tables. Some may argue that green chemistry is an industry-related process or system related more to industrial manufacturing and has nothing to do with the general public, the layman.
Nevertheless, we are all consumers of those manufacturing industries and use the products created by themdirectly or indirectly. We use chemicals and take some of their help to grow more food and protect our food crops from diseases and pests. We use detergents, floor cleaners, sanitisers etc., to maintain a clean environment in our homes and workplaces.
We use plastics in our daily life, and eventually, they end up dumped in garbage dumping grounds, water bodies or clogging waterways of rivers and streams. So everyone of us may not be a manufacturer, but we are, indeed, a consumer in one way or the other.Our society is indisputably consumerist, and businesses are fuelled by consumerism. Afterall, “Consumer is king”.
The choice of the consumers keeps manufacturing units open, and businesses thrive. The global occurrence of micro/nanoplastics (MNPs) in the environment has been steadily increasing, becoming an issue of global concern.
Plastic pollution is one of our modern way of life’s defining legacies, but it is now so widespread that it is even making its way into fruits and vegetables as they grow. It is not by sheer chance that researchers recently discovered micro/ nanoplastics (MNPs) for the first time in the human bloodstream after entering via the environment.
to be continued…
* Dr Arati Ningombam,, Dr Romila Akoijam, Dr Laishram Kanta Singh, Dr Ch Basudha Devi, Dr Ch Sonia, Dr Ch Premabati wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writers are staff of ICAR, Manipur Centre.
This article was webcasted on January 23 2023 .