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Living sustainably within our planet’s boundaries is a matter of global concern, with some countries now focusing on the development of a circular economy (CE) — where materials are reused as much as possible. Much CE research has focused on the amount of waste being recycled; the focus of this study, however, is on quantifying the amount of material that is not being recycled but could be — a distinction known as the ‘circularity gap’ (CG).
Extreme weather events, such as floods and landslides, are becoming more common in European countries due to climate change. After a flood or landslide, five to 15 times the annual waste generated by a community can be disposed of in an affected urban area. This can lead to environmental and health vulnerability in these areas, with high socio- economic costs. This study aimed to find sustainable and cost-effective disaster waste management (DWM) solutions. The scenarios selected, and associated data used, reflect realistic events in Italy.
The development of a circular economy (CE) is the focus of several of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals, with the European Union a frontrunner in implementing ambitious waste policies to achieve these. A CE requires waste to be separated for recycling. A Danish study now investigates household waste- sorting behaviour to better understand how sorting systems could be most effective.
There is mounting global concern about marine plastic pollution and a growing focus on ways to address this environmental problem. In 2015, 9.2 megatonnes (Mt) of plastic was lost to the environment globally; in order to remedy this issue, it is essential to quantify the amounts, types and sources of plastic waste in the global environment (both geographically and within industry). This study estimates the loss of plastics to the environment across the plastic value chain, finding that mismanagement of municipal solid waste and tyre abrasion are key contributors of macro- and microplastic waste, respectively.
Approximately 88 megatonnes (Mt) of food are wasted every year in the European Union, causing 186 metric tons (Mt) carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-eq) — a universal measure for all greenhouse gases. The impact of food waste on the climate, acidification and eutrophication is around 15–16% of the environmental impact of the entire food chain. In developed countries, food waste is high at the point of consumption— so significantly reducing food losses would require a food-waste reduction in households and the food-services sector.
A circular economy, in which waste is minimised and resources are kept within the system, relies upon inventive ways of turning waste into a resource. A new study explored the possibility of using the microalga Scenedesmus obliquus to refine and process brewery wastewater. The alga efficiently removed pollutants from the effluent, produced biomass and biofuels in a range of different forms — and with different bioactive compounds — and encouraged waste barley and wheat to germinate at increased rates. This is especially important for breweries, as barley seeds are one of the main feedstocks for the industry — and thus are key to increasing its sustainability and circularity.
European scientists have conducted the first ever long-term study into the breakdown of alternative plastic bags compared to conventional plastic bags, across multiple habitats — open air, soil and sea. Oxo-degradable, compostable and biodegradable bags are often marketed as being recycled back into nature more quickly than normal bags; however, the long-term environmental studies to back this up are lacking and there is concern regarding microplastic pollution from these alternative plastic bags.
Food packaging waste is currently under scrutiny. In the context of its Circular Economy Action Plan, the EU is addressing this through, among others, its Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) initiative , which aims to enhance the reliability of environmental claims — both in a business-to-consumer and in a business-to-business context. The initiative aims, therefore, to boost the market of green and circular products. However, a review of the methods available for assessing the environmental sustainability of packaging now highlights the difficulty of clearly characterising packaging's environmental impact. The study suggests a new, fully quantifiable framework that could help to standardise assessment methods and bring 'environmental footprint labelling' to fruition.
Around 40% of the platinum used in EU catalytic converters is not recovered for recycling and is therefore ‘lost’ forever, indicates a new study. A more circular economy for platinum is essential to reduce imports of this critical raw material to the EU and minimise its damaging effects on the environment, the researchers argue. Better collection systems for end-of-life catalytic converters and tighter regulation of waste exports could help close the loop on platinum.
Rare earth elements (REEs) are used increasingly often in innovative technologies, causing these elements to enter the natural environment. They can be sourced via deep-sea mining, raising concerns about marine exposure to mining processes and waste products. This study examined how two REEs, lanthanum and yttrium, affected and stressed marine ecosystems, using young marine mussels (Mytilus galloprovincialis) as indicators of water quality. The researchers determine a parameter known as the ‘predicted no effect concentration’ (PNEC) for La and Y — the maximum environmental level of each of the two elements at which no effect is seen on the most sensitive organisms and which is, therefore, deemed safe for the environment.
Biodegradable waste, or bio-waste, from urban areas is being used to produce a bio-based material to replace plastic — this is relevant to the sustainable development of a circular economy (CE), which requires the innovative use of waste materials. Understanding public attitudes to such materials, and the drivers influencing their uptake, is key to their viability. This study explores how consumers respond to products made from regenerated bio-waste.
To estimate the losses of wild pollinators across Great Britain, a study mapped records of 353 wild bee and hoverfly species, collected across the country from 1980 to 2013. It found that a third of species decreased, while a tenth increased. On average, the geographic range of bee and hoverfly species declined by a quarter, which equates to a net loss of 11 species from each 1km grid square (with uncommon species more harshly affected), highlighting a significant risk to biodiversity, pollinators, and their ecosystems.
Between 13% and 16% of waste electric and electronic equipment (WEEE), furniture and leisure goods disposed of at household waste collection centres are in excellent working condition and could be easily be prepared for re-use, finds a new study from Bavaria, Germany. Improvements to waste collection, storage and treatment practices to prevent damage to disposed items could free up a further 13%-29% of these waste streams for re-use. Notably, weatherproof storage for WEEE at collection points could have prevented up to 86% of the damage endured by the studied items.
Consumers in France, Germany and the USA perceive ‘environmentally friendly’ packaging to be reusable, recyclable and ‘biodegradable’1, finds a new study. These results suggest that producers should emphasise the end-of-life merits of packaging to appeal to consumers’ environmental concerns, and design packaging that is reusable, recyclable and ‘biodegradable’. However, they also indicate a need to raise public awareness of packaging’s true life-cycle environmental impacts, such as those during production and transport, which are greater than consumers generally perceive them to be.
The presence of plastics in aquatic environments is a growing concern across the EU. This study explored the amount of microplastic particles present in raw and treated water at three water-treatment plants in the Czech Republic. While treated water contained fewer particles than raw1 fresh water, the amount found in treated water was not negligible, and largely comprised tiny particles of <10 micrometres (μm) in diameter. Ways to filter microplastics from potable water must be identified and their risk to humans, sources and routes into drinking water determined, say the researchers.
In the automobile industry, the development and manufacture of increasingly complex technological components — catalytic converters, LEDs, electric motors, batteries — requires increasingly complex and diverse raw materials with specific qualities. The technological and economic importance of these materials, combined with their vulnerability to supply shortages and likelihood of supply interruptions, indicates their ‘criticality’. This study uses a new methodology to explore the criticality of 27 key metals used in the automotive industry and other sectors, and highlights six that are especially vulnerable: rhodium, dysprosium, neodymium, terbium, europium and praseodymium. The researchers found there was limited recycling and substitution of these metals and a high possibility of restrictions to their supply.
Scientists have tested the behaviour of biodegradable plastics in managed composting and anaerobic conditions, as well as under simulated environmental conditions, such as in seawater or soil. This study found that blending different types of biodegradable plastics may open up new opportunities in relation to their end-of-life treatment — notably the potential to make one of the world’s best-selling biodegradable plastics, polyactic acid (PLA), home-compostable by blending it with another polymer (polycaprolactone — PCL). However, the researchers were also concerned that most materials tested could still cause plastic pollution as they failed to biodegrade sufficiently — and, in some cases, not at all, in particular, in soil and the marine environment.
Concern is growing around the issue of energy efficiency in data centres (DC) as more and more data are saved, processed, and transferred to facilitate myriad digital services worldwide. Utilising waste heat from DCs as heating for nearby districts may be a potential solution if technical and knowledge barriers are overcome, suggests this Finnish study, which identified key obstacles to this concept and possible methods of implementation.
Insights from a recent Italian study could help local authorities across Europe improve their rates of separate waste collection for recycling. The researchers found higher rates of separate waste collection in municipalities with high-quality governmental institutions for waste collection, non-mountainous terrain and higher income levels. Separating household waste into streams, such as glass or food, for re-use and recycling helps free up resources for a circular economy. Good-quality institutions are the main driver of separate waste collection and can overcome barriers such as low economic prosperity.
The EU-27 have committed to a strategic goal of developing an innovative economy based on biotechnology and renewable resources — a so-called ‘bioeconomy’. To achieve this, however, the EU must successfully mobilise resources such as residual biomass — or waste products from organic matter resources. A new study1 has quantified the potential of key residual biomass streams in the EU-27. The results show that residual biomass has a theoretical energy potential equivalent to the annual energy consumption of Italy and Belgium combined, with straw and forestry residues comprising the two most productive potential sources. The findings also reveal specific opportunities for regions including Paris (France) and Jaen (south-central Spain).
Silver nanoparticles present in the effluent from waste-water treatment plants could have toxic effects on aquatic organisms, new research suggests. The lab-based study tested the effects of nanoparticle-containing effluent on several crustacean and algae species. The researchers observed that epibenthic crustaceans (those living in or on sediments at the bottom of water bodies) were the most sensitive; notably, a 20–45% higher death rate was observed compared with those exposed to nanoparticle-free effluent.
Extended producer responsibility (EPR) and other regulatory influences are essential to battery recycling in Finland, a new study finds. The researchers compare this with the situation in Chile, where a lack of appropriate legislation prevents recycling companies from overcoming the technical and financial challenges of battery recycling. The study helps policymakers understand how political, social, and cultural factors can support companies in their move towards circular-economy business models.
Micro, small and medium-sized enterprises comprise the majority of European businesses — and, therefore, have a vital role to play in reducing our dependence on, and consumption of, increasingly scarce resources. A new study explores whether the concept of industrial symbiosis, in which companies use waste products of other industries as raw materials, is common in small- and medium-sized companies (SMEs) — using beer producers and mushroom farmers in Sweden as case studies.
A circular economy (CE) is one in which materials retain their value and are reused, minimising waste. Cities and councils could act as CE trailblazers by embedding this approach whenever possible into their public purchase of products, services and works. This study explored different approaches to circular public procurement (CPP), and identified possible opportunities to promote CE via appropriate procurement policy and criteria.
A new study lists 10 factors to help create a closed-loop supply chain for critical materials. However, interviews with key actors in supply chains for photovoltaic (PV) panels and wind turbines suggest that manufacturers and recyclers hold different perspectives on these factors. The research highlights the importance of cooperation between supply-chain actors, as well as investment in technologies and infrastructure for closed-loop supply chains.
Biogas production from waste and manure has the potential to make a contribution to environmental, energy and climate policy objectives. However, farmer engagement has remained persistently low. A new study, involving 461 Danish farmers, has investigated their willingness to participate in collective biogas investment (where two or more farmers collectively own a biogas plant). The study suggests that the majority of farmers are willing to participate in partnership-based biogas investment (PBI) and identifies the main factors driving willingness to participate and the intensity of participation. These findings are relevant to policymaking aimed at increasing biogas production and stakeholder engagement.
High-quality and innovative batteries are imperative for the EU in the context of its move towards a low-carbon, climate-friendly and more circular economy. However, manufacturing and using batteries, as well as the way they are treated at the end of their life, also has environmental impacts. This Future Brief from Science for Environment Policy provides an overview of technical aspects of battery design and production which enable the environmental footprint of batteries to be lowered. It also highlights how battery technologies are evolving to deliver better performance.
The release of pharmaceutically active compounds (PhACs) in waste water from treatment plants (WWTPs) is currently not regulated anywhere in the world, with the exception of a few plants in Switzerland. Yet thousands of PhACs or their by-products — excreted by humans — can be found in waste water and some of these may harm biodiversity when released into waterways. For example diclofenac and oxazepam may have negative effects on aquatic species.
Personal Care Products (PCPs) are of increasing global concern, as thousands of tonnes enter the environment every year. Similar to persistent organic pollutants (POPs), some substances used in PCPs are toxic, persist in the environment and accumulate in the bodies of organisms that take them in. This study focused on the presence of ultraviolet filters (UV-Fs) (used in PCPs such as sunscreens and cosmetics) in the unhatched eggs of wild birds.
The potential of recycling aluminium scrap in Austria has been modelled in a new study. A surplus of mixed aluminium scrap is expected by 2045 if no advanced sorting technologies are applied. Increased demand for wrought aluminium alloys could mean this surplus occurs sooner. New methods to intensively sort aluminium could prevent this excess and contribute towards REACH1 recycling and climate targets.
Conventional municipal waste-water treatment processes are based on aeration, which is energy intensive. Now, researchers have developed an alternative waste-water treatment process. In addition to avoiding the use of aeration in favour of filtration/biofiltration and encapsulated denitrification (the application of capsules containing nitrifiers, which convert ammonium into nitrate), the process also uses waste biosolids to generate electrical energy. The process has been tested in a pilot facility and found to require just 15% of the energy required for conventional approaches. Moreover, the process is energy positive, as the biosolids are able to generate more than enough energy to power the treatment plant. If this technology could be scaled up to the municipal level, it could significantly reduce the energy use and environmental impacts of waste-water treatment.
A successful circular economy for valuable metals needs more than just effective recycling technologies, as a new study shows. The research, which explored the governance of recovering vanadium from steel-industry waste, revealed that industry stakeholders feel the prospect of financial gain, or reduced costs, through recovery is too distant at present. This perception could hinder a circular economy for critical materials from industrial residue, the study warns.
If the EU is to combat resource scarcity, it is necessary to develop and refine strategies for substituting raw materials with sustainable alternatives, such as recovered by-products from waste. A recent study presents a new approach for evaluating the sustainability of raw materials’ substitutions, based on the quantification of the embodied energy (energy required to produce the material from ores and feedstock) and carbon dioxide footprint (greenhouse gasses produced and released into the atmosphere during the production of the material) of both the raw material and its proposed substitute. The evaluation method has been applied to a real case, where it indicates that substituting a raw material (calcite) with stabilised fly ash for use as a filler in polypropylene composites in plastic manufacturing may be sustainable. The study also highlights the need for additional policy tools and legislation to encourage Europe’s transition towards a circular economy.
Water pollution by toxic elements is a major economic and environmental concern, and mercury is one of the most poisonous of the elements to be released into the environment by industry. Mercury exposure can cause severe ill health. Efficient, simple and convenient methods to remove mercury from industrial and other waste streams and drinking water are essential. This study successfully trialled a new technique, using magnetised multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs), to remove mercury from waste water.
Tiny polyester fibres, which are washed into rivers, lakes and seas every time we do our laundry could cause more harm to animals than plastic microbeads, finds a new study. The researchers looked at the effect of microbeads and fibres on a small crustacean called Ceriodaphnia dubia, which lives in freshwater lakes. They found that although both types of plastic were toxic, microfibres caused more harm. Both microplastics stunted the growth of the animals, and reduced their ability to have offspring; microfibres, however, did this to a greater degree, and also caused noticeable deformities in the crustacean’s body and antennae.
Advances in nanotechnology mean that a rapidly increasing number of products are being produced using engineered nanomaterials, for example, nano-enabled thermoplastics. Many of these nano-enabled products are destined to reach their end-of-life through waste incineration or accidental fire. Now, an original study has revealed that the presence of nanofiller in thermoplastics significantly enhances both the concentration and toxicity of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) produced during thermal decomposition at the product’s end- of-life, resulting in concentrations of total PAHs and more toxic PAHs that are up to eight times higher than those found in pure (non nano-enabled) thermoplastics. This finding has significant environmental health implications.
A third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted, and the EU alone wastes an estimated 88 billion tonnes of food every single year. This is equivalent to 76 kilograms per person per year. This is an unsustainable level of waste which threatens food supply and the environment. The EU is taking several actions against food waste, as a critical part of efforts to achieve a circular economy, where resources are used more sustainably.
Plastic waste in the environment presents cause for concern, but scientific understanding of its exact impacts is still in its infancy. A team of Dutch scientists has presented recommendations on how to develop a new assessment method which provides clear, specific evidence on the risks of plastic waste. Once developed, this method could inform scientifically sound policies for managing plastic waste.
A new analysis of waste recycling systems in Portugal highlights where kerbside (edge of pavement) collection systems could be optimised, to decrease their environmental impact. In this case, researchers found that the kerbside system was less favourable economically and environmentally due to more packaging and more fuel consumption per tonne of waste, compared to a system where recyclable materials are deposited by residents in large containers. But the researchers suggest that measures such as re-usable boxes and efficient collection routes could help to mitigate the impact of kerbside collection. While there is an environmental impact from waste collection, processing and disposal, this study only focused on the collection phase.
A new study has examined the toxic effects of silver nanoparticles on plants. Using a range of spectroscopic and imaging techniques, the researchers demonstrate how silver nanoparticles can reduce the growth of wheat, as well as interfere with genes that help the plant deal with pathogens and stress.
Analysis of the operation of a novel, micro-scale anaerobic digester has shown that this technology could provide a useful means of processing food waste in urban areas. The study found that the digester, located in London and fed mainly with local food waste, avoided 3.9 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, while providing biogas for cooking, heat and power. Anaerobic digestion on this scale could play a part in reducing the amount of food waste that goes to landfill1 and contribute to the circular economy.
A new study has, for the first time, estimated total anthropogenic releases of mercury over the last 4 000 years, up to 2010. Overall, the study estimates that a total of 1 540 000 tonnes of mercury have been released; three-quarters of this since 1850, and 78 times more than was released through natural causes over this period. Therefore, human activity has been responsible for a significant level of contamination, and this inventory can be used to inform and assess mitigation measures. The publication coincides with the ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, and the new EU Mercury Regulation1, which prohibits the export, import and manufacturing of mercury-added products, among other measures.
Mercury is a heavy metal that is well known for being the only metal that is liquid at room temperature and normal pressure. It is also a potent neurotoxin with severe global human health impacts. It can be converted from one form to another by natural processes, and, once released, actively cycles in the environment for hundreds to thousands of years before being buried in sediment. This In-Depth Report from Science for Environment Policy summarises the latest scientific studies and research results on mercury pollution in the global environment.
The removal of arsenic from water using a brown seaweed (Sargassum muticum), coated with iron hydroxide, has been tested in a recent study. Under optimal pH conditions, the method removed 100% of the arsenic, indicating the viability of this method for treating contaminated water.
The development of future recycling technologies must be informed by data about products and materials that will enter the waste stream, but such forecasts are subject to a high level of uncertainty. In this study, researchers have proposed a methodology for predicting emerging waste materials, applying it to silicon-based photovoltaic (PV) panels. The findings show that closed-loop recycling — when post-consumer waste is recycled to make new products — of PV panel materials could mitigate up to 0.2% of the annual environmental impact of Flanders1, Belgium, if suitable technology was developed.
Researchers have analysed the ability of two organic nanomaterials to remove the heavy metal chromium from water. In the laboratory, the nanomaterials successfully took up around 95% of the chromium. Further work is needed to confirm the feasibility of using these nanomaterials to purify water in real-world conditions.
The pathways for removal of dissolved phosphorus within biofiltration systems have been examined in a new study. Over 95% of phosphorus was removed over the study period, with the majority of phosphorus stored within plants. The researchers say the findings demonstrate the value of using suitable plant species within biofiltration systems to treat polluted water.
Engineering at the nanoscale brings the promise of radical technological development — clean energy, highly effective medicines and space travel. But technology at this scale also brings safety challenges. Nano-sized particles are not inherently more toxic than larger particles, but the effects are complex and vary based on particle properties as well as chemical toxicity. This Report brings together the latest science on environmental safety considerations specific to manufactured nanoscale materials, and some possible implications for policy and research.
European policy permits the application of nutrient-rich sewage sludge on agricultural land as a means of recycling1. However, contamination of sludge with microplastics may pose a risk to ecosystems. This study looked at the characteristics of microplastics in sewage sludge after three types of waste-water treatment, finding that anaerobic digestion should be explored as a method of microplastic reduction.
Municipal wastewater is a major source of pharmaceuticals in the aquatic environment. Results from a recent study suggest that collecting and treating urine separately from other forms of sewage could be a cost-effective way to reduce the harmful effects of pharmaceuticals on the environment, while also providing a source of nutrients for fertilising agricultural crops.
Researchers have examined environmental and economic impacts of supermarket food waste in a new study. Bread and meat products made the largest contribution to the environmental footprint of the supermarket assessed. Alternative waste strategies, such as using bread waste as animal feed, have the potential to reduce these impacts.
Reusing waste water for non-drinking uses in decentralised plumbing networks may improve the efficiency of water supply in urban areas, a new study has found. Modelling this approach in San Francisco, researchers found that, depending on the local geography, a decentralised water supply could lead to energy savings and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from water treatment of around 30%. Improvements in emerging water-treatment technologies are likely to lead to further savings, which could help increase the efficiency of urban water supply.
A participatory approach to waste management has been tested in Naples, Italy, a city which has experienced ongoing problems with the collection of municipal waste. This study tested a toolkit, which uses stakeholder engagement to improve waste-management decision-making. Residents and other stakeholders supported the use of a technological innovation to develop biomass fuel from municipal waste.
Recycled waste material could play a major role in the construction of roads in Europe, bringing both environmental and economic benefits. A new study proposes a scenario where 50% of the asphalt for Europe’s roads consists of recycled materials, leading to significant reductions in costs, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.
A study has evaluated three types of media campaign conducted by a large UK supermarket to encourage shoppers to reduce their food waste. These used social media, an e-newsletter and a print/digital magazine, respectively. Although they all appeared to lead to reductions in food waste to some extent, similar behavioural changes were also seen for customers who had not participated in any of the campaigns.
Landfill leachate is the liquid that seeps through or out of waste deposits in landfill sites. EU regulations, such as the Landfill Directive1, have significantly reduced the volume of leachate produced, a study on leachate management in Ireland has found. Leachate, mainly from younger landfills in Ireland is, however, stronger since implementation of the legislation, and the researchers say the future treatment of leachate under stricter environmental protection regulations will continue to be a long-term concern for landfill operators and regulators.
Silver nanoparticles are used in a range of household products. This study investigated the risk to plants of these nanoparticles in soil, showing that risk was overall low but increased when soils contained high levels of chlorine. The researchers, therefore, suggest that the risk of silver nanoparticles to plants may increase in salty soils or those irrigated with poor-quality water. These findings could be important for future risk assessments.
A new method of processing food waste into fertiliser has been outlined in a recent study. The process uses a digester system with microorganisms to break down organic waste into fertiliser. The resultant fertiliser was used in a low-energy greenhouse to produce a range of food crops. The method is a potential way to utilise food waste and reduce the energy consumption of food production as part of a circular economy.
A rough total of 1455 tonnes of floating plastic is present across the Mediterranean, estimates a new study. Researchers gathered floating plastics using trawl nets and found that microplastics with a surface area of around 1 square milimetre (mm2) were the most abundant size of plastic particles found.
A new study has analysed marine litter on beaches across the UK, indicating that the fishing industry is responsible for large quantities of marine rubbish. The researchers recommend a combination of better enforcement of regulations covering waste disposal, and incentives for fishing vessels to reduce marine litter.
Recycling has significant environmental benefits and is key to a circular economy. The EU has set a goal for Member States to recycle 50% of their municipal waste by 2020 and plans to set a 65% target for 2030, although progress towards this goal is variable. This study assessed a waste separation scheme in Malta, a Member State with traditionally low levels of recycling. Even though mixed waste was collected more frequently and for free, residents contributed to the voluntary recycling scheme, with participation increasing over time. This study provides useful insights for developing voluntary policy approaches.
Sewage sludge and manure are sometimes added to soil to improve crop production. However, these ‘natural fertilisers’ may contain not only nutrients and organic matter but also antibacterial agents. This study investigated their impact on the microbes in soil, revealing an increase in antibiotic resistance genes. The researchers recommend greater efforts to remove antibiotic residues from wastewater and manure.
Azole fungicides are active ingredients in a range of pharmaceutical and personal care products, and are also used in agriculture. This study reviewed the sources, presence and risks of these compounds in the environment, finding evidence of toxic effects on aquatic organisms. The researchers provide directions for future research and warn caution should be exercised until more toxicity data becomes available.
Personal care products (PCPs) are a diverse group of products, including toothpaste, shampoo, make-up and soaps. The number and use of these products has increased over recent decades, generating concern about their impact on the environment. This literature review analysed over 5 000 reports of environmental detection of 95 different chemicals from PCPs. The analysis reveals toxic levels of PCP chemicals in raw and treated wastewater, and in surface water. The researchers recommend treatment methods focusing on antimicrobials, UV filters and fragrance molecules.
Around 50% of gold in used mobile phones is not recovered for future use, a new study finds. The researchers suggest that a global circular economy in mobile phones could be created by improving recycling of precious metals in phones in developing countries, as well as increasing the lifespan of phones and improving collection after use. These changes will reduce pressures on non-renewable resources and close ‘metal flow loops’.
Recycling waste from farming and mining could help improve the sustainable use of phosphorus, a recent study suggests. The study traced the stocks and flows of phosphorus over a 50 year period to reveal changing patterns of global phosphorus use. The results can be used to develop the sustainable management of phosphorus — a finite and critical resource — in the future.
A US-based study has confirmed the prominent position that recycling and personal waste management take in the public consciousness. Crucially, the researchers suggest that understanding the popularity of such waste- management activities could help policymakers promote other forms of pro-environmental behaviour.
Researchers have presented a comprehensive new classification manual of asbestos-containing products (ACP), materials (ACM) and waste (ACW) in a recent study. They also mapped suitable landfill sites for the proper disposal of ACW in Italy and developed guidance on assigning ACW to correct European Waste Catalogue (EWC) codes. The research will help operators engaged in asbestos waste disposal across Europe and should contribute to aims for the total removal of asbestos from the EU.
Transnational environmental crime is notoriously difficult to control. Intelligence-led policing (ILP) has been suggested as one way of tackling the complex issue. This study assessed the use of ILP to prevent the illegal export of e-waste in the UK. The authors found that ILP successfully generated intelligence to address the problem and recommend that cross-border ILP be established to tackle environmental crime in Europe.
How does the law protect the environment? The responsibility for the legal protection of the environment rests largely with public authorities such as the police, local authorities or specialised regulatory agencies. However, more recently, attention has been focused on the enforcement of environmental law — how it should most effectively be implemented, how best to ensure compliance, and how best to deal with breaches of environmental law where they occur. This Thematic Issue presents recent research into the value of emerging networks of enforcement bodies, the need to exploit new technologies and strategies, the use of appropriate sanctions and the added value of a compliance assurance conceptual framework.
Weathering of treated wood and other construction materials can lead to the release of chemicals into the environment. Researchers have investigated the release of biocides from wood and roof paints, demonstrating that the amount of water in contact with exposed surfaces is a key factor in determining the level of active chemicals released. The study provides guidance for testing biocidal products in line with the European Biocidal Products Regulation.
Landfill taxes and ‘enhanced waste management’ practices have been introduced to reduce the amount of waste that goes to landfill and to convert waste into useful products. This study investigated the interplay of these two policy options in Belgium, generating findings that could help Europe move towards a resource-efficient, circular economy.
The Alang-Sosiya shipbreaking yards in India highlight the inequalities and opportunities of global waste management. The yards, which recycle retired ships from more economically developed countries, have dramatically altered the ecosystems and social structures of the local area. A study looking at stakeholder perceptions analyses different positions on the social and environmental impacts of the yards.
An inventory of materials used in ship construction could minimise waste and increase ships’ recycling rates and resale value, according to the Sustainable Shipping Initiative (SSI). Although extra data management would be required on the part of suppliers, manufacturers and owners, it would help make the industry more efficient and future-proof with regard to developments in international legislation on ship building.
The Alang shipbreaking yards in India recycle almost half of all end-of-life ships worldwide. The major activity at the yards is plate-cutting, used to recover steel from ships. This process consumes nearly 29 kg of oxygen and 7 kg of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and emits almost 22 kg of CO2 per 1 km-long cut with a 1 mm depth. This study reveals the carbon footprint and resources consumed in the cutting of steel plates. The method used to derive these findings could be adapted to ship dismantling yards worldwide.
Life cycle assessment (LCA) can measure the environmental impact of the different stages of a ship’s life cycle, from design to dismantling. This assessment focused on the impact of recycling the metal parts of a ship and did not consider the crucial impact of the hazardous materials present on board. The results showed that re-use of metals had environmental benefits, but overall these were small compared to the environmental impact of other life cycle stages, such as operation.
Ship recycling at the end of a ship’s useful life aims to make the shipping industry more environmentally sustainable and is a major source of employment in developing countries. However, there are associated health, safety and environmental concerns. This study argues these concerns are due to inappropriate design and explains how ‘design for recycling’ can reduce the costs and risks of ship recycling.
When broken down, ships can release hazardous substances into the environment. This study investigated the environmental impact of shipbreaking in one of Europe’s few ship recycling yards, based in Portugal. The results reveal large differences between assessment methods and show that environmental impact depends on composition rather than size or class.
A 2013 study has estimated the costs of upgrading existing ship recycling facilities to more environmentally friendly, and regulatory compliant, standards. The research focuses on alternatives to the ‘beaching’ method of shipbreaking, widely criticised for its environmental impact and safety record.
Turkey is a major ship recycling centre and is the largest OECD member country with a significant ship recycling industry. In this study, researchers reviewed the environmental, health and safety issues surrounding the Turkish shipbreaking industry, its compliance with environmental regulations and its ability to claim ‘green recycling’.
A large proportion of ships are recycled on the beaches of developing countries in Asia. This study considered shipbreaking in Bangladesh, using critical scenario analysis to explore different futures for the industry and its workers. The paper suggests that a radical shift in socioeconomic and political structures is needed to enable environmentally sound practices while retaining employment opportunities for local people.
Bangladesh’s economy is heavily dependent on ship recycling. However, the shipbreaking industry is polluting the Bay of Bengal, an area of high biodiversity. This study measured trace metals in sediments around the area, concluding that heavy metal pollution is at an alarming stage and an urgent threat to marine life.
The Alang-Sosiya shipbreaking yard in India is highly polluted with heavy metals, a study concludes. The researchers studied heavy metal contamination in sediments taken from the intertidal zone of the shipbreaking yard and compared them to a control site. The area was found to be ‘strongly polluted’ with copper, cobalt, manganese, lead and zinc.
Plastic pollution is a threat to marine ecosystems, as plastics are persistent, toxic and can accumulate up the food chain. This study assessed the abundance of small pieces of plastic in Alang, India. The authors found, on average, 81 mg of small plastic fragments per kg of sediment, which they say is the direct result of shipbreaking.
Pollutants have been shown to alter the structure of bacterial communities in the coastal waters around the Alang-Sosiya shipbreaking yard in north-west India. The research analysed seawater from two sites near Alang-Sosiya and from pristine sea water taken 10 km from the coast. The results provide a clearer idea of changes to the microbial ecology near a large ship recycling yard.
A study of the pollution caused by ship scrapping in Alang, India, shows significantly higher levels of heavy metal and petroleum hydrocarbons in sediment and seawater, compared to a control site. The researchers also found reduced populations of zooplankton — a critical food source for marine biota — and increased numbers of pathogenic bacteria.
Recycling ships for scrap is a known asbestos exposure hazard, yet this study is one of few to trace asbestos-related cancer rates in shipbreaking workers. The results, obtained from former shipbreakers in Taiwan, show higher rates of cancer overall, especially oesophageal and lung cancers.
Dangerously high air pollution in the vicinity of shipbreaking yards has been detected by a recent study, where the concentrations of toxic chemicals in the air were found to be above carcinogenic risk limits (as set by the World Health Organisation). The research, carried out in Chittagong, Bangladesh, noted that shipbreaking activities and the subsequent processing and treatment of materials – particularly the burning of waste — result in emissions of persistent organic pollutants (POPs).
The ship-recycling industry — which dismantles old and decommissioned ships, enabling the re-use of valuable materials — is a major supplier of steel and an important part of the economy in many countries, such as Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Turkey. However, mounting evidence of negative impacts undermines the industry’s contribution to sustainable development. This Thematic Issue presents a selection of recent research on the environmental and human impacts of shipbreaking.
Researchers have developed a technique to recover indium, an important raw material with limited supply, from liquid crystal display (LCD) screens. The method could contribute to a resource-efficient, circular economy.
Constructed wetlands are used in many countries as green infrastructure to treat waste water, but may also be biodiversity hotspots, a new study suggests. This study reports on a constructed wetland in an urban area of Italy, which increased the number of plant taxa — including several plants of conservation concern — by over 200%. The researchers say the ability of constructed wetlands to enhance biodiversity could support local development.
Oestrogens are ‘female’ hormones that can enter the aquatic environment after excretion by humans and animals, causing ‘feminisation’ of male fish. This study carried out a risk assessment for oestrogen-like endocrine disruption in the UK in the 2050s, based on likely changes to the human population, river flows and temperature. The authors found that risk is likely to increase under future conditions and recommend further research to assess whether improving sewage treatment could reduce oestrogen pollution.
Oysters exposed to polystyrene microplastics produced fewer offspring, which were also smaller and slower growing than offspring from unexposed oysters, according to recent research. The researchers say their study adds to growing evidence of the harm caused by microplastic pollution and can help stakeholders to take action on plastic debris entering the oceans to limit its long-term impact on marine life.
The non-restricted production and use of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) has led to their presence in effluents from treatment plants, which can pose a threat to aquatic organisms downstream. This study analysed the breakdown of six common chemicals in four Danish treatment plants. The findings shed new light on the factors affecting removal of PPCPs from waste, showing that the composition of waste is more important than the design of the treatment plant.
Widespread use of antibiotics has led to pollution of waterways, potentially creating resistance among freshwater bacterial communities. A new study looked for antibiotic resistance genes in a river basin in Spain, revealing that wastewater discharges can promote the spread of antibiotic resistance in streams and small rivers.
A recent survey of Dutch mobile phone owners has identified why some consumers buy refurbished mobile phones while others buy new ones. Some consumers perceived refurbished phones to be inferior, which was a major barrier to their purchase. The study’s authors make a number of recommendations to increase consumer uptake of refurbished mobile phones, including promoting the financial and environmental benefits and offering warranties.
Constructed wetlands can remove disease-causing bacteria from wastewater, but their performance is highly dependent on the systems they use, a new study shows. Researchers reviewed results from a wide range of studies on constructed wetlands and found that combining different approaches increased removal of bacteria. However, further research and improvement of wetland systems is required to produce water that is safe for reuse.
The EU Waste Framework Directive aims to recycle or recover materially 70% of non-hazardous construction and demolition waste by 2020. This study evaluated the performance of the Finnish waste management system against this target. The results showed that the system generates environmental benefits and is profitable, but has not reached the 70% target. The researchers suggest ways the target could be met and recommend region-specific recycling objectives in the EU.
The emissions of two perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs) into the Danube River Basin have been estimated in a test of four different hypotheses regarding the factors affecting those emissions. The results were used to simulate water concentrations for comparison with measured data. The researchers found that incorporating wastewater treatment information and wealth distribution alongside population data can improve the accuracy of emissions estimates.
Active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) — responsible for the biological activity of drugs — have been widely found in the environment, yet the precise sources and relative importance of emissions via wastewater are not quite clear. This study assessed emissions from three health institutions in Germany — a hospital, a psychiatric hospital, and a nursing home — and found their contribution was low compared to that from households. However, more research is needed to understand the environmental effects of neurological drugs, emissions of which were in some cases relatively high.
The main factors affecting household food waste in the EU have been identified by an analysis of the 2013 Flash Eurobarometer survey (n.388). On an individual level, the main factors include age, gender, income and environmental attitudes. On the national level, the most significant factor is median disposable income. The authors suggest their results could help develop campaigns targeted at groups that generate the most household waste.
The extent of marine litter in the Mediterranean Basin has been revealed by a new study. Researchers reviewed previous studies to show that the northwest Mediterranean Sea is a hotspot for plastic debris. They found that marine litter harmed 134 species in the Mediterranean Sea and call for more to be done to manage the growing problem of debris, especially plastics, littering the Sea.
An economic analysis of 14 common categories of waste electric and electronic equipment (WEEE) has highlighted the economic value of bringing e-waste streams into the circular economy. The overall worth is calculated as €2.15 billion to European markets, with a potential rise to €3.67 billion as volumes increase.
Sustainable urban waste management has progressed over recent decades, with recycling of waste becoming a routine activity across the EU. However, the increasing volume and complexity of waste poses ongoing challenges for policymakers and municipal administrators. New research suggests that a rethink around how household waste is sorted could lead to more resources being recovered from solid waste.
Fragments of microplastics are readily incorporated into groups of microscopic algae, altering the rate at which the plastics move through seawater, a recent study has found. In laboratory tests, polystyrene microbeads, which usually sink to the bottom of seawater at a rate of 4 mm a day, sank at a rate of several hundreds of metres a day when part of microalgae aggregates.
Mining metals from landfill sites can be economically viable, a recent project in the US has demonstrated. Approximately 34 352 tonnes of metals, conservatively valued at US$7.42 million (€6.67 million) were recovered from the 8 hectare ashfill site, according to researchers who analysed the project.
The overall ecological impact of 10 engineered nanomaterials has been modelled for the first time using toxicity data from multiple living species. These models will allow researchers to assess the effect nanomaterials may have on both ecosystems and people.
Vermicomposting livestock manure with maize can increase agricultural benefit by 304%, shows a new study. The combination of increased crop yield and the additional earthworms produced as a result of the process led to a substantial increase in output compared to a traditional composting system.
The economic viability of wastewater reuse projects could be better determined using methodology from a new study. The authors developed a five-step cost-benefit analysis framework to assess a planned wastewater reuse project within the catchment of the Yarqon River, in Tel Aviv Metropolitan Area, Israel. It was found that the scheme could have a net present value of $4.83 (€4.34) million per year. The authors highlight the relevance of identifying external as well as internal economic, social and environmental costs of such projects.
Reliable data regarding marine debris pollution in the Black Sea are lacking. This study provides the first account of the abundance and types of litter floating in the north-western part of the Sea. This information will help to develop effective solutions for marine litter in the region and therefore to achieve the EU objective of ‘Good Environmental Status’ by 2020.
Plastic pollution in the ocean is a growing problem. This study, which is the first to investigate the presence of plastic debris in large pelagic fish in the central Mediterranean Sea, found that over 18% of fish had ingested plastics.
Phosphorus can be extracted in viable quantities from fly ash, a by-product created when municipal solid waste is burnt in incinerators, according to research conducted in Sweden. Sufficient phosphorus could be recovered from the country’s incinerators to meet 30% of the Swedish annual demand for mineral fertilisers, say the researchers.
A Portuguese waste management system for packaging has brought a range of environmental, economic and social benefits, according to a recent study. One of the scheme’s main achievements was that it avoided around 116 kilotons (kt) of CO2 equivalent emissions in a single year, equal to the emissions associated with the electricity use of 124 000 households. These emissions were largely circumvented because the system recovers large amounts of energy and materials from the waste packaging.
Energy efficiency is at the centre of EU policy for achieving a fundamental transformation of Europe’s energy systems by 2030. This Thematic Issue reveals the complexity of the issue of energy efficiency, its links with resource efficiency and the wide range of factors influencing it, from technology to social practices.
The EU Water Framework Directive1 requires policymakers to consider the management of water e.g. in rivers, lakes and streams, at the scale of the river basin, but can wastewater treatment systems be managed at the same scale? To help policymakers answer this question, a team of Spanish researchers have created a method for assessing the integrated operation of wastewater treatment plants in a river basin. Uniquely, the method considers both local and global environmental factors and an economic assessment.
Disposable components of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS), such as e-cigarettes and e-pens, could pose a potential environmental risk unless properly regulated, suggests new research. The study examined the levels of potentially toxic chemicals in disposable battery and 'cartomiser' ENDS components.
Fish fed polystyrene nanoparticles are less active and show changes to their brains and metabolism, according to a study by Swedish and Danish researchers. The findings suggest that nanoparticles in the environment could have a major impact on fish and aquatic ecosystems.
Mussels exposed to high levels of microplastic pollution display signs of stress, new research has shown. However, levels of exposure were higher than found in the wild and no effect on the energy reserves of either mussels or lugworms was observed in the lab. tests. The researchers caution that longer experiments may be needed to reveal microplastics' full effects.
Researchers have designed and proposed a new organic waste management plan for Catalonia, Spain, and presented it in a recent study. They say that the plan would reduce a number of environmental impacts that arise from landfilling biodegradable waste, including natural resource depletion, acidification, and eutrophication.
Emissions from well-regulated household waste incinerators do not reduce the quality of vegetables and milk produced nearby, a Dutch study suggests. Researchers found that levels of certain contaminants were similar whether vegetables and milk came from the area surrounding three incinerators, or from elsewhere in the Netherlands. They say biomonitoring programmes could offer a way to increase the understanding of the real impacts of waste incineration and to improve communication between waste management companies and local communities.
Anti-depressant drugs can affect the behaviour of wild animals in ways which may reduce their survival, new research has shown. The researchers fed half a group of starlings fluoxetine (commonly produced as ‘Prozac’) at concentrations they would be likely to encounter in the wild, if they fed on invertebrates contained in the waste water at treatment plants. Those fed the anti-depressant showed reduced feeding rates compared to the rest of the group, possibly putting their survival at risk.
Flat screen televisions and computer monitors should be designed so they can be quickly dismantled for recycling, a recent study says. The researchers calculated that in order to ensure the recycling process remains economically viable, it must be possible to disassemble small screens in less than 11 minutes. Good design could lower the costs of recycling and enable near-total recovery of precious metals from the waste screens.
Researchers have trawled coastal areas of the Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea for waste and found up to 1211 items of litter per km2. Plastic bags and bottles were some of the most commonly found items. They present the results in a recent study, which they say supports Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) implementation, as well as efforts to discourage plastic carrier bag use.
The carbon footprint of food waste should be taken into account alongside the the weight of food wasted, says a new study. The research examined three years of food waste data from six branches of a Swedish supermarket and calculated the waste’s carbon footprint. On the basis of their footprint, key products that could be targeted for waste reduction include beef mince, meatballs and cream, the results suggest.
A three-step chemical process could successfully recover high-purity silicon from recycled photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, new tests show. The scientists behind the research say that recycling not only helps the PV industry meet regulatory requirements, but also reduces pressure on demand for raw materials.