Celebrating Chemistry CCEW 2020: Protecting Our Planet through Chemistry

By Ressano Machado and Kate R. Anderson

Planet Earth provides humans with the natural resources we need to survive and thrive. Chemistry is the science that has helped us use both renewable and nonrenewable resources to transform our lives. Chemists invent and design many of the materials that make items we use every day, from electronics to medicine. Every day, our actions as humans have impacts on the earth and the environment. Some of these actions are beneficial, while others are not.

The impacts of climate change, fossil fuel use, deforestation, and water and air pollution are all well-established environmental problems. Chemists have always cared about the earth. Unfortunately, some materials designed using chemistry have contributed to the most well-known challenges facing our planet.

In response to the overwhelming environmental incidents of the time, the first Earth Day, in 1970, mobilized millions of people to take a stand for environmental protections. One such incident was in 1969, when the Cuyahoga River near Cleveland, OH caught fire from oil and debris pollution in the water. It made national news, sparking outrage. Since then, we celebrate Earth Day worldwide every year in the spring, on April 22. Earth Day reminds us that even though we have made great progress in the past 50 years, we still need to improve our sustainability, and conserve earth’s resources.

Dr. B. Green the mole holding a test tube and a water testing kit

In order to create a sustainable future, we must meet the needs of the billions of people in the world right now, as well as future generations. Chemistry has a big role to play in improving our overall sustainability. Through scientific research and green chemistry (also known as the science of sustainability), chemists can not only help to clean up the planet, but also keep pollution from happening in the first place.

Green chemistry technology must succeed in three areas: cost (it must be cost-effective and affordable), safety (it must be safe for the environment), and performance (it must work well). As we work toward creating a sustainable future, we need more chemists designing materials that are affordable, safe, and effective. You can practice chemistry to be more sustainable in your own life!

We can each do our own part to protect the planet by making small changes in our lives, like switching to biodegradable plastics and buying less one-time-use stuff. We want to show you some of the ways chemistry is contributing to cleaning our water, reducing waste, and designing sustainable materials.

We hope that you enjoy celebrating Earth Day’s 50th birthday during Chemists Celebrate Earth Week 2020, with the theme of “Protecting Our Planet through Chemistry.” Remember that actions to protect our planet should be observed and celebrated all year round!

About this Issue of Celebrating Chemistry

Production Team
  • Allison Tau, Editor
  • Eric Stewart, Copyeditor
  • Michael Tinnesand, Copyeditor
  • Rhonda Saunders, Designer
  • Jim Starr, Illustrator
  • Beatriz Hernandez, Translator
Technical and Safety Review Team
  • Lynn Hogue, Consultant
  • Bettyann Howson, Safety Reviewer
  • David A. Katz, Safety Reviewer
  • Ashley Neybert, Accessibility Reviewer
  • Ingrid Montes, Translation Reviewer
  • Tracey Ritchie, Environmental Education Reviewer
Division of Education
  • LaTrease Garrison, Executive Vice President
  • Lily L. Raines, Manager, Science Outreach
  • Allison Tau, Program Specialist, Science Outreach
CCEW 2020 Theme Team
  • Rick Rogers, CCEW Chair 
  • Ressano Machado, 2020 Chair 
  • Neal Abrams 
  • Kate R. Anderson
  • George Fisher
  • Susan Hershberger
  • David Katz
  • Edith Kippenhan
  • Keith Krise
  • An-Phong Le
  • Regina Malczewski
  • George Ruger
  • Alexsa Silva

The articles and activities used in this publication were written by theme team members of the ACS Committee on Community Activities (CCA) under the leadership of Holly Davis. Meg A. Mole’s interview was written by Kara KasaKaitas. Lastly, ACS would like to acknowledge editorial contributions from its partners at Earth Day Network, Tracey Ritchie, and Beyond Benign, Kate R. Anderson.

The activities described in this publication are intended for children under the direct supervision of adults. The American Chemical Society cannot be responsible for any accidents or injuries that may result from conducting the activities without proper supervision, from not specifically following directions, or from ignoring the cautions contained in the text.

The content of this publication has not been approved by the United Nations and does not reflect the views of the United Nations or its officials or Member States.



Biodegradable – capable of being decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms.
Environment – the natural world, surroundings, or conditions in which a person, animal, or plant lives.
Green chemistry – chemistry design that avoids the creation of toxins and waste; also, the design of chemical products and processes that reduce and/or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances.
Natural resources – materials found in nature that have practical use and value to people.

Renewable – a resource that cannot be used up (like sunlight, water, or air), but pollution makes harder to use.
Nonrenewable – a resource that takes thousands of years to form (like stone, oil, or gases) that people use faster than it can form.

Pollution – the presence or introduction into the environment of a substance or thing that has harmful or poisonous effects (one example is toxic waste).
Sustainability – the ability to protect our natural resources and maintain ecological balance, so that we can meet the needs of people today, and also future generations.
Waste – material that isn’t wanted anymore, such as unusable remains or byproducts.