“Rather than managing wastes after end-of-product life (or “cradle-to-grave”), Green Chemistry shifts our focus to designing chemicals, processes, and goods that have less or no adverse effects- throughout their life-cycle (“Cradle-to-cradle”)- on California’s people and our environment.” –Maureen Gorsen, former Director, Department of Toxic Substances Control (2008)

The Problem

Media headlines regularly reveal consumer products with suspected toxic substances. Tens of thousands of chemicals are in use today, but we know very little about how they affect people or the environment. Consumers and businesses in the supply chain lack basic information about ingredients and their effects, information which could lower the costs and liability arising from goods that contain toxic substances. This information gap prevents the free market from working properly to stimulate the innovation of safer, healthier substitutes. Issues include:

  • Uncertainty about the safety of chemicals in products which are manufactured around the world
  • Little or no information about chemical ingredients and potential hazards
  • Poorly conceived actions, like bans that do not consider alternatives and often create new problems when substitutions are made
  • Billions of dollars in state taxpayer costs for long-term stewardship of a burgeoning hazardous waste stream
  • More chemicals being used as our population grows and our economy expands, resulting in more products being consumed and more waste generated.

Supporting Green Chemistrygreen chemistry

California was the first state in the nation to pass a comprehensive “Green Chemistry” Initiative to reduce toxic chemicals in consumer products and make it easy for consumers and businesses to identify the chemical contents of the products they buy.

Green Chemistry is a systematic scientific and engineering approach that seeks to reduce the use of hazardous chemicals and the generation of toxic wastes by changing the way chemicals are designed, manufactured, and utilized. Rather than managing chemicals one by one through individual bans, the Green Chemistry Initiative establishes a “framework” approach by delegating the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) the ability to target the most dangerous and harmful chemicals for safer chemical substitutions and product take-back. CPSC supports this framework approach, as well as the EPR framework approach as adopted by CalRecycle in 2008, for product waste management. To date, authority to initiate the EPR framework approach has not yet been granted by the legislature.

The six recommendations developed through the California Green Chemistry Initiative in the 2008 Green Chemistry Initiative Final Report are:

1.  Expand Pollution Prevention and product stewardship programs to more business sectors to refocus additional resources on prevention rather than clean up.

2.  Develop Green Chemistry Workforce Education and Training, Research and Development and Technology Transfer through new and existing educational programs and partnerships.

3.  Create an Online Product Ingredient Network to disclose chemical ingredients for products sold in California, while protecting trade secrets.

4.  Create an Online Toxics Clearinghouse, an online database of chemical toxicity and hazards populated with the guidance of a Green Ribbon Science Panel to help prioritize chemicals of concern and data needs.

5.  Accelerate the Quest for Safer Products, creating a systematic, science-based process to evaluate chemicals of concern and alternatives to ensure product safety and reduce or eliminate the need for chemical-by-chemical bans.

6.  Move Toward a Cradle-to-Cradle Economy to leverage market forces to produce products that are “benign-by-design” in part by establishing a California Green Products Registry to develop green metrics and tools (e.g., environmental footprint calculators, sustainability indices) for a range of consumer products and encourage their use by businesses.

Video created by the CA DTSC and the U.S. EPA

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