It is virtually impossible to produce anything from chemicals without generating some form of environmental waste; whether as a gas or vapor escaping from a smokestack, a watery effluent pouring out from a pipe or a solid destined for a furnace or a landfill.
The phrase "Better living through chemistry" does have a quid pro quo associated with it.
But as a World Community, sharing the planet together, we all breathe the same air, drink and bathe in the same water and utilize the earth's natural resources to produce our food.There must therefore be a thoughtful approach to manufacturing by the World's chemical and pharmaceutical intermediate manufacturers that includes a respect for the environmental well being of the World Community and I think this is happening throughout the chemical industry both here domestically and in many foreign countries.
In October I attended a chemical and pharmaceutical exposition in Paris, France. Dubbed the CPhI (for Chemical and Pharmaceutical Intermediate Exposition) it was obvious that this year, there was a greater emphasis on the part of exhibiting companies to be "greener," i.e. more environmentally responsible. In fact, the color green seemed to be everywhere; appearing on company logos, added to colleagues' business cards, and used on promotional literature and product lists.
And it's not all just clever marketing by the World's chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturers. They have made and are continuing to make strides to reduce their impact or "footprint" on the environment?
China's Great "Green" Leap Forward
Undoubtedly the country with the largest challenge in this area is the People's Republic of China. The World Bank estimated the population of the PRC to be almost 1.4 billion in 2008 or approximately 20% of the World's population. To provide that many people with air conditioning and heat for their homes as well as the ability to move about requires a massive consumption of natural resources including coal, oil and natural gas. Add to this the appetites of countless chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturing sites throughout the country's 3,696,100 square miles — about the same size as the U.S. — and with a population density almost five times that of the U.S., the potential for adverse environmental impact on humans is significant.
Lake of death
It was only three years ago when the pollution in China's third largest freshwater lake, Lake Tai, located in China's Jiangsu Province made headlines. The New York Times reported that at one time, Lake Tai was legendary, known as China's ancient "Land of Rice and Fish," due to the abundance of white shrimp, whitebait and whitefish swimming in its waters. Through the years industry sprang up on its shores. By 2007, there were as many as 2800 chemical factories indiscriminately dumping effluent into the water. The resulting algae bloom choked off virtually all life and left more than 2 million people without drinking water. At one point, the stench was so foul the water was unsuitable for bathing.
The incident became the poster child for China's lax environmental policies. In response, the Chinese government spent $14.4 billion for the clean up.
China continues to make strides towards its "greenification."
In December, 2008, The New York Times reported that China had begun to impose a "green securities" plan which the newspaper explained was "aimed at making it harder for polluters to raise capital and [which] require[ed] listed companies to disclose more information about their environmental records."
This plan was only one part of a push by the State Environmental Protection Administration towards a greener China.
Five months later, writing for the U.K. Telegraph, Peter Foster penned an article entitled "Is China's Green Policy Working?" Reporting from his station in Urumqi, Foster wrote, "...[T]oday the same winds that struck fear into the traders of the Silk Road, swallowing whole caravans in blinding storms of dust, are being used to power plants for a new, green revolution for China's energy-hungry economy. At Dabancheng, a few miles outside the city, great forests of windmills stretch to the horizon, their blades beating out a lazy rhythm that belies the sudden urgency with which China's rulers are now investing in renewable energy. The speed with which China is now ramping up its commitment to alternative energies has caught even the most optimistic analysts by surprise, with new green edicts being issued from Beijing on an almost weekly basis. Last week officials pledged to generate 100 gigawatts of electricity from wind power by 2020, more than tripling the original target of 30GW laid down in a national energy strategy published just 18 months ago."
The Chinese dichotomy — green energy policies but skies that are still grey
China is definitely tilting towards greener energy policies. But it is both a geophysical and political behemoth. Despite great leaps forward over the last several years, environmental problems still persist.
Cristina Larsen, writing for the August 7, 2009 edition of Yale Environment 360 notes that "China is on its way to becoming the world's largest producer of renewable energy, yet it remains one of the most polluted countries on earth."
She explains the dichotomy as being the difference in opinion between outsiders looking in and those who are actually living there. She writes, "From the outside, China is seen as passing spectacular new renewable energy goals, building massive wind farms and hydropower stations overnight and perhaps one day even giving American and European companies a run for their money in the global green-tech market. But from the inside, what emerges is a more muddled picture. The daily experience is that the air and water quality is bad, in some places getting marginally better or staying the same, in some cases getting worse."
China's pharmaceutical industry is greener but there is a cost
Despite China's huge inertia, there have been strides made towards the greenification of its pharmaceutical industry.
What my colleagues and I have seen firsthand over the course of the last decade, and more acutely during the last five years has been the impact of China's ever increasing stricter enforcement of environmental laws. Manufacturers have been forced to move out of metropolitan areas, curtail production of fermentation antibiotics producing effluents that placed local waterways under heavy biological oxygen demands or have been closed down altogether by the local government. In some cases it has been a management decision to reduce or cease the production of advanced pharmaceutical intermediates that were deemed to be heavy polluters. Manufacturers have also made large capital investments in environmental technology, building water treatment plants on-site to reduce the biological load on the surrounding environment. All of these factors have come together in many cases creating tight supplies with concomitant price increases of as much as 50%.
And this is the quid pro quo of greenification. There are real costs associated with environmental compliance that go beyond adding a splash of green to a company logo. In the end, chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturers in China as in the rest of the world, along with domestic manufacturers that purchase these chemicals and pharmaceuticals as raw materials will have to bear a portion of the bill. But these are costs with long-term benefits, which every member of the World Community should be willing to shoulder for the health of us all.
Gregory J. Rummo is the CEO of New Chemic (US) Inc. located in Montvale, New Jersey. He is also a syndicated columnist and the author of "The View from the Grass Roots." Contact him at GregRummo.com or NewChemic.com