UofT Demonstrates its Commitment to Sustainable Chemistry

“We’re very pleased and proud to announce that the Chemistry Department has recently joined the Green Chemistry Commitment (GCC)!” – Dr. Andy Dicks, University of Toronto, Associate Professor


GCI Members Fall 2016

The University of Toronto has recently signed the GCC making us the first school outside of the United States to sign onto this impactful commitment, which now contains 33 colleges and universities. The GCC is overseen by Beyond Benign, a United States not-for-profit organization created by Dr. Amy Cannon and Dr. John Warner, a founder of the principles of green chemistry. Within the GCC, academic institutions collaborate to share resources and know-how in order to positively impact how the next generation of scientists are educated about sustainability issues. Participating departments commit to green chemistry instruction as a core teaching mandate. The aim is to provide undergraduates and graduates with the required understanding to make green chemistry become standard practice in laboratories around the world. This, in turn, ensures that when graduates of the university enter the workforce, they are armed with the knowledge of how to make molecules and processes more sustainable and less toxic by adhering to the Twelve Principles of Green Chemistry.

The GCC unites the green chemistry community around shared goals and a common vision to grow departmental resources to allow a facile integration of green chemistry into the undergraduate laboratories as well as to improve connections with industry which creates job opportunities for sustainability-minded graduates. Their website offers many resources for those interested in reading actual case studies and laboratory exercises, so please click here to visit their website and be informed!

Our chemistry department has already improved the green chemistry content in our undergraduate laboratories by updating the first year courses and upper year synthetic chemistry courses to include various graded questions about the Twelve Principles as well as ensuring the undergraduates are thinking about how they could make their current lab protocols more sustainable. Additionally, students can choose to study the fate of chemicals in our environmental chemistry courses offered. Of course there’s always room to improve, so the Green Chemistry Initiative (GCI), in collaboration with Dr. Andy Dicks, is working on evaluating the undergraduate chemistry curriculum’s current focus on sustainable chemistry and toxicology, in hopes to further improve our undergraduate’s learning experience. The GCI also provides many educational opportunities to department members such as our Seminar Series as well as many outreach opportunities, making our group a driving force in the integration of green chemistry principles to the department. Lastly, the University of Toronto chemistry courses reach thousands of students a year, and by being the first Canadian university to sign this commitment, we are working towards a greener future in Canada!

Thank you for celebrating this very momentous achievement with us!
Karl Demmans, Ian Mallov, Shira Joudan, and Laura Reyes

Update on the Waste Awareness Campaign

By Karl Demmans, Seminar Series Coordinator for the GCI

Today I’m very excited to update everyone on the latest results of the Waste Awareness Campaign. We’ve been recording the types and quantities of waste accumulated in Lash Miller Chemical Laboratories since January 1st, 2014.

Posters displaying the data collected in the first 8 months were posted throughout the department, with the intention of drawing researchers’ attention to their waste habits and shedding light on alternate green methods to help reduce waste generated in our department. You may have seen this previous data set, which we published in a blog post here.

Now, almost two years later, we have gathered enough data to look at the changes in waste production from 2014 to 2015, during the period of January to August for each year. Take a look at the poster below for a summary of what we found.

GCI Waste Awareness Poster 2015

The table shows the percent contribution by discipline to each waste category, while the bar graph displays the distribution of waste within each discipline.

Beginning with the table at the top, the rows display each discipline’s percent contribution to each respective waste category, while the last column shows the contribution to total waste in 2015. The value in brackets denotes the change from the same period in 2014. Understandably and not surprisingly, the most waste is produced by organic chemistry labs, accounting for 81% of flammable waste, and 58% of the total waste in our department. This is then followed by the polymers & materials, inorganic, and biological disciplines, fairly evenly contributing 10-15% each to the total waste volume.

Subsequently, the row entitled “Percent of Total 2015” breaks down the contribution by each type of waste compared to the total waste accumulated. From this, we can see that the flammable waste was our department’s largest source of waste this year, followed by green pails for solid waste at 40%. The last row indicates the percent increase for each waste category in comparison to the same period of 2014.

Surprisingly, we observed a fairly dramatic increase in waste this year. It is important to note that the data has already been corrected for the number of graduate students and post-doctoral fellows working in the labs, since this number fluctuates constantly. However, we do not have the number of undergraduate students who work or volunteer in each lab, which could adjust the data comparisons. Nonetheless, the increase in waste production surprised us, and we will continue to compare trends as we collect more data over time.

The bar graph “Waste Distribution by Discipline” at the bottom of the poster displays a further breakdown of the types and quantities of waste produced in each discipline of chemistry. For example, in Environmental Chemistry, 51% of the total waste was green pails while only 25% of waste was flammable solvent. This graph allows each lab to identify their largest type of waste production and strategically target reduction. In general, the vast majority of the Chemistry Department’s waste was flammable and solid material. In fact, we are only producing minimal halogenated and acidic waste, which is a noteworthy accomplishment as these types of waste are more harmful to the environment and costly to neutralize.

While we have seen a percentage shift in the use of chlorinated and acidic to flammable solvents, we have still noted increases across the board in each waste category. As a research facility, we generally produce a very small fraction of the global chemical waste in comparison to industrial processes. Nonetheless, we take our waste production very seriously and are always brainstorming ways to encourage less production of chemical waste in order to reduce our footprint. Do you have any stories of how your institutions have encouraged waste reduction? Share with us in the comments!

For more information on the categories of waste and proper waste disposal please refer to our posts Proper Chemical Waste Disposal: Posters & Memes and Chemical Waste FAQs.

Green Chemistry Applied In Industry: Our 2015 Symposium

By Karl Demmans, 2015 Symposium Coordinator for the GCI

Following the success over the past couple years with our workshops entitled “Future Leaders in Green Chemistry” and “Next Steps in Green Chemistry Research”, we felt that the next logical step after teaching chemists how to apply green chemistry in their own research would be to have a symposium highlighting how these techniques are implemented by the chemical industry in the working world. Therefore we focused on obtaining lecturers from industries across Canada and the United States such as Xerox, VWR, Sigma Aldrich, Dow, 1366 Technologies, Proteaf Technologies, Green Chemistry & Commerce Council, and many more.

Starting off the event was Dr. Andy Dicks’ Crash Course which covered the basics of green chemistry while incorporating industrial case studies from recent years. The industrial lectures followed over two full symposium days, covering a variety of topics with three main goals: 1) how companies are bridging the gap between academia and industry, particularly by adopting promising chemistry from academia, 2) how companies are connecting with each other globally to instill better practices such as industrial transparency through environmental sustainability reports, and 3) chemical synthetic case examples exploring the diverse area that is the industrial green chemistry of today. A few academic lecturers were also invited to share their knowledge of solvent-free chemistry and applying green chemistry to DFT calculations.


Symposium participants learn about each other’s research during the poster session.

The final lecture, compiled by the GCI and presented by yours truly, was entitled “Preparing for the Future: Advice from Industry”. This lecture presented the responses from our invited speakers to a few questions we asked them, based on the necessary skill sets and experience required to push forward your resume when applying for an industry-based job, as well as their view of working in an industrial lab vs an academic setting. In the end, the best advice was to educate yourself broadly in science and in business, be active with extracurriculars during your studies, and most importantly to develop communication and people skills!

Highlights from the symposium included poster presentations featuring 14 posters (three of which won a monetary prize in a poster competition), dinner with the speakers in small groups, and a social event held at Harvest Kitchen with hors-d’oeuvres and drinks.


Group picture taken during the social night!

Of course, we’d like to thank our sponsors for their funding to make this event possible: UofT Environmental Resource Network (UTERN), the UofT Chemistry department, GreenCentre Canada, UTGSU, and Ulife. Special thanks goes to Universal Promotions, who were very helpful in the process of making GCI notebooks for our symposium swag.

If you’d like to see more details including a full schedule of our 2015 Symposium, click here. ACCN also published an article featuring our event, please check it out here!

We’re already planning the theme and speakers for our 2016 Symposium, so stay tuned through our social media accounts for more announcements.

Thanks for stopping by and have a great day!

Waste Awareness Campaign

By Karl Demmans, Workshop Coordinator for the GCI

Welcome back to the GCI’s monthly updates about our recent endeavors and findings in green research! Today I’d like to discuss the efforts put forth by various faculty and graduate students over the past eight months to collect and distribute data about the amount of waste produced in the Lash Miller Chemical Laboratories, the main building for the Department of Chemistry at UofT. Our hope is that once students are presented with this information, they will be more conscious about their chemical procedures and consider alternate green methods to help reduce waste. For an example of the types of data we have collected, take a look at the poster found below.

Waste Poster GCI

Waste data for Lash Miller Chemical Laboratories (Department of Chemistry, University of Toronto).

In Lash Miller, waste collection occurs every Friday. Each research group gathers their labelled waste containers and brings them to  our waste department for sorting and temporary storage, before eventual disposal.  The rather colourful chart in the poster displays the amount of solid or solvent waste, broken down for each chemistry discipline, concluding with the percent of total waste each discipline produces, as well as the type of waste that is made.

The colour gradient of the five waste categories denotes the combined environmental and economic concerns ranging from solid decontaminated waste (‘best’) to acidic waste (worst). Overall, the waste picture for Lash Miller looks pretty good, with only 9% of the total waste produced in the building coming from the two red categories (acidic and chlorinated). By specifically targeting these types of waste for reduction, we can continue to improve and make the waste profile of our department even better.

For Lash Miller graduate students, if you’d like to know specifically how much waste your group is producing, send an inquiry e-mail to green [at] chem.utoronto.ca!

Lastly, the final part of the poster describes what each type of waste is, and explains the disposal process. The topic of how chemical waste is disposed of was recently discussed during our last GCI seminar. Click here to read our Chemical Waste FAQs!

In the upcoming months there will be another poster displaying the percent reductions in waste produced per discipline, to see how graduate students react to the current information. Thanks for stopping by to learn about our Waste Awareness Campaign and how we are helping to reduce our environmental footprint.