US chems highlight environmental gains on 40th annual Earth Day

22 April 2010 16:21  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS news)--Increased environmental awareness has boosted the US chemical industry to a leadership position in improving energy efficiency while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) said on the eve of Thursday's 40th annual Earth Day celebration.

“Forty years ago, the first Earth Day ushered in a new era of environmental awareness for Americans concerned about our impact on the planet,” said ACC president and chief executive Cal Dooley. “This national awakening sparked a series of research initiatives and improvements that continue today.

“The American chemistry industry is at the forefront of those scientific advances as we confront the serious challenges of climate change and energy conservation.”

The US chemical industry invested $14bn (€10.4bn) in environmental health and safety programmes in 2009, the ACC said. On a broader basis, chemical makers invested $48bn on research and development, more than any other US industry - with much going to the “green” products sector, the ACC said.

That research and development contributed to environmental sustainability in a number of ways, according to ACC. For the building sector, going “green” included items such as vinyl windows, vinyl-coated wire and cable, and roof coatings to reflect away solar heat.

Likewise, the recovering global auto sector has placed a premium on fuel efficiency, for which chemistry has played a vital role, the ACC said. Low-rolling resistance tyres are made by adding silica and polysulfidosilanes to tire tread, boosting their fuel efficiency.

Also, the trend toward “lightweighting” in automobiles has been to the benefit of plastics producers, the ACC said. Every pound of plastics and composites used to lightweight an automobile produces 2-3 lbs in weight savings for that vehicle, according to the group.

Meanwhile, the wind power industry relied on products such as polyester and resin additives, while solar power makers used chlorine and silicon-based materials.

“We are the principal supplier of materials that make the US economy more energy efficient,” Dooley said. “The values that encompass Earth Day are the same values that chemistry companies embrace on a daily basis.”

In biofuels, the US National Biodiesel Board (NBB) noted contributions from the industry toward lowering emissions and said Earth Day unscored the urgency of the need to immediately extend the biodiesel tax credit.

"Lawmakers need look no further than the National Mall to see cleaner-burning biodiesel at work powering generators this Earth Day", said NBB chief executive Joe Jobe. "Not only does biodiesel have the best greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction of any domestic transportation fuel, but also it is the only advanced biofuel currently in the US commercial marketplace."

In plastics, US producers over the past two decades have taken a leadership role in promoting plastic bag recycling programmes, the ACC said.

This April, the ACC’s Progressive Bag Affiliates - a group whose members included Dow Chemical, ExxonMobil and NOVA Chemicals - launched three new recycling parternships, as the group continues its fight against proposed taxes on plastic bags in several cities and states.

Industry critics have sought to promote the use of reusable shopping bags at the expense of traditional plastic, a charge the ACC has said was unfair to low-income residents.

“More Americans are recycling plastic bags and wraps than ever before, driven by a growing recognition that plastic is a valuable resource,” said Shari Jackson, director of the bag affiliates group.

“It’s not just bags, we find that many consumers are surprised to learn that they can return dry-cleaning bags, newspaper bags and plastic wraps from bread, paper towels, cases of soda and more,” she added. “These materials are recycled into many useful products, including durable backyard decking, fencing, railings, shopping carts and, of course, new bags. 

“What could be more timely than to spread this message during Earth month?”, she said.

Meanwhile, Dow went beyond the ACC campaign and sponsored Live Earth events in 150 cities on 18 April in an effort to raise money for clean water programmes.

The Dow sponsorship of former US Vice President Al Gore's organisation drew fire from some environmental activists, who argued that Dow should not attempt to paint itself as a "green" company given its denial of liability for the aftermath and cleanup of the 1984 Bhopal disaster in India.

Dow acquired Union Carbide 16 years after the Bhopal incident. Dow said that when the incident occurred, the factory was owned and operated by another company - Union Carbide India Limited.

Union Carbide owned more than half the shares of Union Carbide India Limited, but had sold its shares of the India company before Dow's acquisition. However, that did not satisfy critics who sought Dow's involvement in the cleanup.

In late March, Amnesty International urged Live Earth to reconsider the Dow sponsorship. Live Earth did not respond, according to news reports.

From a legislative perspective, the ACC pointed to its support and leadership position for reform for the 33-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) as another example of industry support for the environment.

However, such reforms should not be overly burdensome on an industry that is already assisting in energy efficiency while cutting emissions, the group has said.

On the whole, the ACC said the US chemical industry has reduced its own absolute greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 16% between 1990 and 2008. Moreover, since 1974, American producers have cut their fuel and power energy consumed per unit of output by nearly half, the group noted.

“As Americans prepare to celebrate Earth Day, many are simply unaware of the vital and unique connection between the business of chemistry and environmental sustainability,” the ACC said.

($1 = €0.75)

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By: Ben DuBose
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