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So-called green chemists use all the tools and training of traditional chemistry, but instead of ending up with toxins that must be treated after the fact, they aim to create industrial processes that avert hazard problems altogether. The result is new materials that are not only safer to use but less expensive to make. Yet a decade after the phrase “green chemistry” was coined, less than 1 percent of patents in chemical-heavy industries are green.
Why hasn’t the popularity of green chemistry risen more quickly? It’s partly due to the fact that the up-front expense of redesigning factories often eclipses the potential long-term savings of going green. Also, there’s a psychological factor: Changing worldviews takes a long time – especially when those worldviews involve how business is done. And sometimes what appears to be greener may not be. Take the new trend in the furniture industry of soy-based foams. While soy is certainly a natural product, its use in furniture and mattresses remains a very small percentage of the overall end-product, with the primary ingredients being synthetic materials such as polyurethane.
Now one company – Duluth, Ga.-based Vystar Corporation – is doing its part to raise awareness of the advantages of green chemistry within one particular area: the latex industry. The company has developed and patented an eco-friendly latex material, named Vytex Natural Rubber Latex (NRL), that significantly reduces the antigenic proteins found in natural rubber latex. Not only does this mean that products made with Vytex NRL contain significantly fewer proteins that potentially can cause allergic reactions; in addition, the process by which a Vytex-based product is created requires much less water and energy than traditional latex manufacture.
Vystar’s innovation in this area is impressive, but the company is still a small player in a big industry not yet wholly converted to the cause. “Looking at the big picture, green chemistry starts with renewable resources, recycles its reagents, uses less hazardous solvents, and streamlines complicated processes,” says William R. Doyle, Vystar’s president and CEO. “We at Vystar are dedicated to the advantages of green chemistry and have incorporated its ideals into our manufacturing processes for Vytex NRL. Yet there is still a great deal of work to do. Individual facilities, such as a glove company in India, have done studies quantifying just how much money Vytex NRL can save them. Part of our mission is to make findings like that one better known.”
If and when the advantages of green chemistry in the latex industry become common knowledge, manufacturers and consumers – as well as Planet Earth – stand to benefit.