Have you ever stopped to wonder and consider how a product gets on that shelf, in that store, or to your doorstep?

When we look at products, whether a piece of clothing, footwear, or electronic appliance, we usually know it for how it is used and/or how it is disposed of after we are finished with it.
Rarely do we ever consider a ALL stages of a product’s life, known as a Life Cycle Analysis, or “cradle to grave” view, including:

  1. Raw material extraction
  2. Material processing
  3. Manufacturing
  4. Distribution
  5. Usage
  6. Repair
  7. Maintenance
  8. Disposal
  9. Recycling

Each of these different stages have different environmental consequences. Designers must use Life Cycle Analysis more often to evaluate and critique their products from a green perspective– which can help them avoid a narrow outlook of environmental concerns.

Trent University student, Madison Mooney from Belle River Ontario, conducted her 4th year undergraduate thesis project on Life Cycle Analysis and Green Chemistry Principles with Dr. Shegufa Shetranjiwalla.

For many years, undergraduate chemistry courses have neglected to look at the full environmental impacts of the reactions conducted in the lab.

Madison’s research aimed to overcome this gap by:

  • Improving awareness of waste production with chemistry students
  • Promoting the substitution of greener and less environmentally harmful processes
  • Encouraging undergraduate students to look beyond Green Chemistry in the lab – and more to its applications in daily life

Madison researched an experiment currently conducted in 3rd year undergraduate organic chemistry as a model for how Green Chemistry Principles and Life Cycle Analysis can be applied to a process.

The goal was to analyze the experiment’s environmental impact, while proposing a greener alternative without compromising what the students learned from the original experiment.

Madison’s work helped students numerically calculate the environmental impact of the chemical reaction.

By applying Green Chemistry Principles, the students realized that their in-class experiment produced a lot of material waste, released greenhouse gases, and produced acid rain!

Life Cycle Analysis was also used to propose an alternative pathway to make the same final product to replace the initial experiment.

The outcome was lower amounts of waste produced and a decrease in environmentally harmful chemical emissions.

Most importantly, student trials demonstrated that this new method could be implemented into the undergraduate chemistry labs without losing out on the classroom learnings.

Madison’s research proved that :

  • Green Chemistry and Life Cycle Analysis can be used to determine the environmental impact of chemical experiment and successfully propose a greener alternative method;
  • Green Chemistry can be applied to the undergraduate curriculum; and
  • The application of Green Chemistry improves student awareness of their waste production and environmental impacts in and out of the lab.

Though this research uses Green Chemistry to analyze a reaction in a chemistry course, the methods used and conclusions drawn from this work have global applications.

 Many of the Green Chemistry Principles can be applied to everyday life, such as preventing waste, or being more energy-efficient in large scale industrial processes to minimize waste and reduce environmental impacts.

The basic structure of this research, looking at a process in terms of its impact and seeing if there is a greener alternative, is universally applicable.

This work is meant not only to give students the tools to view chemistry from a green perspective, but as a way to demonstrate the potential to make anything greener simply by digging a little bit deeper.

Here is an illustration of Madison’s research, showing the two experiments to get to the same product, one of which is very environmentally-harmful, and the other is much more eco-friendly

Thank you Madison for reminding us that no matter what area of work you study or work in, you can always look for ways to create efficiencies that benefit our environment – and chemistry is included in this!

Here is what Madison has to say about her Trent University experience:

Trent University’s small size has allowed me the flexibility to pursue research that impassions and inspires me. Only at Trent can an undergraduate student have such an active role in designing their own research project. I am thankful to have had the opportunity at Trent to make a meaningful impact toward a greener future!