Chemical manufacturing resource efficiency
Businesses in the chemical industry can have significant environmental impacts. The industry includes producers of commodity chemicals such as organic and inorganic chemicals and industrial gases, and speciality chemicals such as pharmaceutical products and essential oils. It also includes mixing, blending, diluting or converting basic chemicals to make chemical products and preparations, eg paints, pesticides, inks, detergents and cosmetics.
Using resources efficiently and considering ecodesign techniques can save you money and will reduce your impact on the environment. You can reduce costs by cutting your energy use and carbon emissions. You may also be able to introduce green chemistry principles to reduce your environmental impact and help you to use raw materials more efficiently, reduce waste and produce safer chemicals.
This guide describes how you can use green chemistry principles, manage your environmental performance and use energy efficiently. It also outlines your responsibilities if you produce packaging or dispose of packaging waste.
What is green chemistry?
Green chemistry involves applying clean technologies to reduce or eliminate the use and generation of hazardous substances in designing and making chemical products.
The 12 principles of green chemistry
Green chemistry involves 12 principles that have been widely adopted:
- prevention - aim to prevent waste rather than to treat it or clean up after it
- atom economy - incorporate all materials into the final product without unwanted side products
- less hazardous chemical synthesis - where possible, substances should be used and generated that possess little or no toxicity to human health and the environment
- design safer chemicals - chemical products should be designed to do the job while minimising toxicity
- safer solvents and auxiliaries - avoid the use of auxiliary substances (solvents, separation agents, etc) wherever possible and ensure they are harmless when they must be used
- design for energy efficiency - minimise the energy requirements of chemical processes
- use renewable feedstocks - use renewable raw materials whenever technically and economically possible
- reduce derivatives - minimise or avoid unnecessary use of derivatives (blocking groups, protection/de-protection, etc) as they generate waste
- catalysis - catalytic reagents, which can carry out a single reaction many times, are superior to stoichiometric reagents which only work once
- design for degradation - chemical products should be designed to degrade innocuously at the end of their function
- real-time analysis for pollution prevention - analytical methodologies are needed for real-time, in-process monitoring and control prior to the formulation of hazardous substances
- inherently safer chemistry for accident prevention - substances and the form of a substance used in a chemical process should be chosen to minimise the potential for chemical accidents
Advantanges of green chemistry in chemical manufacturing
If you can produce greener or more sustainable chemicals and chemical products you can reduce their environmental or health impacts and you could reduce your costs.
Green chemistry means designing chemical products and processes that use and produce fewer or no polluting or hazardous materials. For example, you could use green chemistry in developing new catalysts or substitutes for volatile organic compounds used in solvents and adhesives.
It applies across the full life cycle of a chemical. You should think about:
- how you select the raw materials used for manufacture
- how you produce the chemical and the energy used
- the cost of disposing of the chemical and its environmental impacts
- the potential for reuse or recycling the chemical
- whether the chemical should be produced at all
Benefits of green chemistry
If you use the principles of green chemistry in your business and apply clean technology, you could improve efficiency, reduce waste and produce safer chemicals for users.
It could also help you comply with existing and future legal requirements and a growing list of restricted substances and materials.
Marketing your improved environmental performance can help you to raise your business' profile and increase sales - see how to market your environmental credentials.
How to apply green chemistry principles
You should use a step-by-step approach to apply the principles of green chemistry. This will enable you to identify any issues and deal with them in a systematic way.
- review the 12 principles of green chemistry and develop a plan for how you can use them in your business
- assess the chemicals you currently use and manufacture
- identify the potential opportunities from green chemistry
- set up an approach for adopting green chemistry
- gather innovative ideas that could lead to creating products with lower environmental impacts
- integrate green chemistry into your business, perhaps through a documented programme within a wider environmental management system framework
- carry out regular reviews to monitor progress and ensure products and processes you implement lead to environmental improvements
Comply with controls on innovative technology
If you are considering developing or using innovative products or processes, you should contact the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) as early as possible so that they can advise if there is anything you need to do, before you invest any money. You must make sure that you have all the appropriate permits, licences and exemptions in place before you start developing your product or process and trialling activities.
Field trials and testing
If you plan to carry out field trials on your product or process you should contact NIEA.
Nanotechnology, or nanoscience, involves manipulating atoms and molecules to enhance materials or products, for example to create strong lightweight materials. Nanotechnology may be beneficial for product development, but the risks to the environment also need to be managed.
Chemical manufacturing environmental performance management
Whatever the size of your chemical manufacturing business, it has an impact on the environment. You can take practical steps to manage your environmental performance and save money at the same time. This can help you improve and maintain your reputation and win new business. It can help you communicate to your customers and staff that you comply with legislation, and that you care about your impact on the environment.
Develop a green chemistry programme
You may be able to improve your production processes or products by using green chemistry principles and applying clean technology.
Develop a clear step-by-step approach to applying green chemistry principles.
You may be able to embed these principles within an environmental management system (EMS).
Use an environmental management system
You can use an EMS to help you identify your business' environmental impacts and work out ways to reduce them, for example by using less energy and water, or producing less waste. This can help you to improve your overall efficiency as well as your environmental performance. Your EMS should be appropriate to the type and size of your operations.
For more information on how an EMS can help your business, see environmental management systems (EMS) - the basics.
Report on your environmental performance
Your business can benefit from improving, and reporting on, its environmental performance. For example, reporting will:
- give you information about your current performance, and whether you are complying with legislation
- identify where you could improve your activities, use resources more efficiently and save money
- involve your staff and help increase their environmental awareness
- demonstrate your commitment to improving your environmental performance to your staff, customers and the public
You should focus on how you manage your key environmental impacts, for example carbon emissions, water use and waste management, and document the progress you are making to minimise your impact.
To find out how you can measure and report on your business' environmental performance, see how to produce environmental reports for your business.
Manage your purchases
The goods and services you buy - such as raw materials for your production process, office supplies, and catering, cleaning and utility services - all have an impact on the environment.
You can reduce the environmental impact of the goods and services you buy and could reduce your costs by following green or sustainable procurement principles. Before making any purchase, think about whether you need to buy the product or service at all.
Reduce your resource use
Reducing your waste and use of raw materials can help you improve your environmental performance and make your production more efficient - see resource efficiency tips for chemical manufacturers.
Communicate with your staff
Encourage all your staff to work together to improve the business' environmental performance. The day-to-day actions of your staff can reduce your environmental impact significantly. Ask someone to volunteer at your site as an environmental champion.
Engage with senior management to gain their support for environmental policies.
Raise awareness among staff about your policies, and update them regularly on your progress and what you've achieved to help keep them engaged - see making the case for environmental improvements.
Chemical manufacturer packaging obligations
The environmental responsibilities your chemical manufacturing business faces if it produces or uses packaging
Your business may produce or use packaging for chemicals or chemical products that leave your site, such as plastic and glass bottles, steel drums, tins and cardboard. You may also have to deal with packaging waste from the raw materials you receive.
If you place packaging on the market you are responsible for ensuring that it meets environmental standards. If you place large amounts of packaging on the market, you are also responsible for the cost of recovering and recycling a calculated amount of the packaging when it becomes waste, based on the amount you create.
If you produce, fill, supply or handle packaging, the packaging regulations will affect you.
Producing and supplying packaging and packaged products
If your business produces packaged products, imports packaged goods into the UK or places packaging or packaged goods on the market, you must:
- not exceed limits on concentrations of certain heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and mercury in your packaging
- use the minimum packaging necessary
- produce packaging that can be reused, recovered or recycled
- keep records for four years as evidence that you are complying
These requirements are enforced by the Department for the Economy.
You must also comply with the duty of care for waste - see waste responsibilities for chemical manufacturers.
You must ensure you package and label chemicals correctly under the Chemicals (Hazard Information and Packaging for Supply) Regulations (CHIP) and the European Community Regulation on the Classification, Labelling and Packaging of Substances and Mixtures - see classifying and labelling chemicals.
Your obligations for packaging waste
If your business handles, manufactures, converts, packs, fills, supplies, leases, hires or imports over 50 tonnes of packaging or packaging materials in a year and has a turnover exceeding £2 million per year, you must:
- register with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), either directly or through a compliance scheme
- pay for the recovery and recycling of a certain amount of packaging waste
- provide the NIEA with evidence that you have met your obligations - if you are a member of a compliance scheme they will do this on your behalf
To store any packaging waste before it is recycled you may need an exemption from waste management licensing.
Good practice in packaging
Reuse pallets and packaging materials wherever possible.
Reuse or recycle packaging that you receive with deliveries. For example, you may be able to reuse drums or containers that have been used only for non-hazardous materials.
Reducing chemical manufacturing carbon emissions
Cutting your carbon emissions can help you to comply with legislation as well as reducing your costs and your impact on the environment.
Check if you need a permit or registration
If your business is energy intensive, for example if you operate a boiler or electricity generator, you must check if you need a greenhouse gas emissions permit and need to trade emissions under the European Union Emissions Trading System (EU ETS).
Chemical manufacturing facilities covered by the EU ETS include carrying out combustion activities with a total rated thermal input exceeding 20 megawatts.
Combustion activities include:
- using electricity generators
- using boilers
- using combined heat and power
- incinerating waste (other than hazardous or municipal waste) where the primary purpose is to produce energy
See how to meet EU Emissions Trading System requirements.
Reduce your climate change levy (CCL) bill
The CCL is a tax on using non-renewable energy. If the CCL applies to your business, you will already be paying it as part of your energy bill.
Reduce your bill by using renewable energy and improving your energy efficiency. You may be able to claim a discount from the CCL if you have a climate change agreement.
Improve your energy efficiency
You can save money and help the environment by taking steps to reduce your energy use - see how to save money by using energy more efficiently.
You can get recognition for measuring and reducing your carbon emissions through the Carbon Trust Standard certification scheme.
Use renewable energy
Reduce your carbon emissions by using energy from renewable sources.
Buy your energy using:
- green tariffs where the provider buys the same amount of energy you use from a renewable source such as a wind farm
- green funds where the provider invests money into researching or setting up renewable energy projects
Find out if you could participate in any local community renewable energy schemes.
Generate your own electricity using wind, solar or other renewable energy sources - see renewable energy regeneration for chemical manufacturing.
Chemical manufacturing energy efficiency
Chemical manufacturing is an energy-intensive industry. You may be able to save money and reduce your impact on the environment by reducing the amount of energy that your business uses or using renewable sources of energy.
By using less energy you can:
- save money on your fuel bills
- help to combat climate change
- improve your reputation with staff, customers and the public
Get an Energy Performance Certificate
If you sell, let, construct or refurbish a building, you must obtain an Energy Performance Certificate. This includes domestic, commercial and public buildings.
The certificate gives the building an A-G energy efficiency rating and recommends how you can improve the energy rating of the building.
Claim enhanced capital allowances
If you invest in certain types of energy-saving equipment and machinery you can qualify for first year enhanced capital allowances. These allow the whole cost of your investment to be offset against taxable profit in the year you bought the equipment.
Check if you can claim an exemption or discount from the climate change levy
The climate change levy is a tax on using non-renewable energy. If the climate change levy applies to your business you will already be paying it as part of your energy bill. Your business may be exempt from the climate change levy, or entitled to a discount if you meet energy efficiency targets set out in a climate change agreement.
Trade associations that have negotiated climate change agreements for their members include the Chemical Industries Association.
Smart energy meters
The government is introducing smart electricity and gas meters to help businesses save money and reduce their carbon emissions. Smart meters will mean automatic and accurate billing. They should allow you to monitor live energy consumption and prices to help you use less power at peak times when it is most expensive.
Reduce your energy use
- Review the energy your business uses. Look at your business activities and think of ways that you could save energy.
- Compare the amount of energy that your business uses with industry standards.
- Include targets and ways to reduce energy use in your environmental management system.
- You can get recognition for measuring and reducing your carbon emissions through the Carbon Trust Standard certification scheme.
- Raise awareness among your staff about the cost of energy. Ask them to help you find savings. Get them involved in monitoring energy use.
Energy efficiency tips
- Monitor how much heat and power your processes use to identify inefficiencies.
- Make your boiler work more efficiently by metering steam flow (energy out) and fuel input (energy in) and adjust the settings if necessary.
- Insulate pipes, valves, tanks and machines that contain steam or hot liquids. This will help to reduce heat loss and could reduce your heating costs.
- Make sure that your motors and pumps are a suitable size for your activities.
- Lubricate your machines regularly to keep them running efficiently.
- Consider using variable speed controls on your motors to minimise energy use.
- Use heat exchangers on hot effluent streams to recycle heat for your processing activities.
Renewable energy in chemical manufacturing
Renewable energy is energy generated from natural sources. Microgeneration is small-scale use of natural sources to generate electricity.
Generating renewable energy can save you money and reduce the amount of greenhouse gases your business emits.
Renewable energy sources include:
- water or hydropower
- wind power
- solar power
- wave power
- tidal power
- anaerobic digestion
For information about the different sources of renewable energy, see how to generate your own renewable energy.
Financial benefits of microgeneration
There are three potential income streams from microgeneration:
- export tariffs
- feed-in tariffs paid by the government for every kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity generated
- green energy certificates
If you generate more electricity than you need you can sell the extra electricity back to your electricity company. The payments you receive for selling electricity are called export tariffs.
The government has introduced feed-in tariffs across the UK for both businesses and households for projects up to five megawatts. The government guarantees payment to microgenerators for every kWh of electricity you generate by renewables, including electricity you generate and use yourself.
If you operate a small-scale energy generator you can make your business money by selling green energy certificates to energy suppliers.
There are a number of interest free loans and other incentives available to businesses wishing to develop renewable energy generation.
If you want to build a renewable energy development you must apply for planning permission from the planning service.
Renewables in protected areas
If the site you wish to develop is in a conservation or protected area, you must notify the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA).
If your site has archaeological or architectural interest you must inform NIEA.
Ten top tips for resource efficiency in chemical manufacturing
Chemical manufacturers can reduce waste and use raw materials and water more efficiently. These are some starting points to help you minimise resource use and optimise production:
- Improve housekeeping - an untidy factory can lead to mistakes, poor attitudes, accidental damage, out-of-date material and waste.
- Separate waste to reduce costs - cross-contaminating different wastes can lead to waste being disposed of at a higher cost than necessary.
- Recover pump or filter contents and tank washings - in paint manufacturing, once a good system is set up for recovering surpluses it is possible to recover a further 5-20 kilograms of product per batch and reduce solvent used for pump washing at the same time.
- Avoid over-ordering - businesses that make products to order tend to buy more materials than required for the job - even after allowing the standard amount for waste - better control of waste levels enables you to reduce stock wastage.
- Store more liquids in bulk - material requirements can change, but buying and stocking policy often doesn't. This can result in slow-moving liquid materials occupying bulk tank capacity, while higher-volume items are bought in drums. To see if there is a problem, list liquid materials in order of consumption and compare the ten fastest-moving products in drums with the ten slowest-moving bulk products.
- Schedule production - to minimise the need for vessel washing between production batches and reduce the wash frequency.
- Recover or reuse vessel-washing liquors - this can significantly reduce effluent volumes and discharge costs, as well as product loss.
- Reduce wastage from spills and surplus material - use automated filling methods and whole containers.
- Prepare a mass balance - this involves identifying inputs such as raw materials and outputs such as products and waste - it is used to calculate where the greatest resource losses are occurring and thus the potential for improvement.
- Operate and maintain equipment correctly - this is the only way to make real improvements in solvent performance and cost reductions are made only if staff operate and maintain the equipment correctly - using equipment efficiently also reduces energy use.
Using water efficiently can also reduce your costs and impact on the environment - see water use and efficiency in chemical manufacturing.