17 May 2023
Nanowaste, an emerging global safety concern, lacks established management and regulation. With over 60% of engineered nanomaterials ending up in landfills, researchers from the University of Fribourg and EPFL call for increased awareness and the development of technical and legally binding guidelines based on the precautionary principle.
The University of Fribourg researchers have identified nanowaste as a new global safety concern that requires environmentally sound management and regulation. Nanowaste refers to waste materials that contain nanomaterials or are contaminated by them. It includes manufacturing waste materials, end-of-life nano-enabled products, and waste unintentionally contaminated with engineered nanomaterials. Despite the estimated annual disposal of up to 300,000 tons of engineered nanomaterials in landfills, there are currently no global definitions or classifications for nanomaterials or nanowaste.
In their paper published in Nature Nanotechnology, the researchers advocate for technical and legally binding nanowaste guidelines based on the precautionary principle. These guidelines should consider the risk assessment, categorization, labeling, collection, storage, transport, recycling, and elimination of nanowaste. To develop these guidelines, case-by-case risk assessments of specific nanowastes generated are necessary, along with a detailed understanding of national and international hazardous waste and materials regulations. Collaboration with laboratory staff is also necessary to derive user-friendly ways to collect, store, and eliminate this waste.
The researchers highlight the importance of implementing measures for nanowaste management in research laboratories, such as proper labeling and storage, given the complexity of the waste generated and the presence of a great variety of untested materials. Specific pictograms and guidelines could also help harmonize nanowaste management in industry and prevent the misclassification of hazardous substances into nonhazardous categories, which could lead to unintended exposure of people and the environment to hazardous nanomaterials.
The researchers urge increased awareness and action to manage nanowaste and caution policymakers to avoid double standards that would hinder the replacement of more hazardous conventional chemicals with novel, less harmful, and degradable nanomaterials. The recommendations presented in the article target researchers and policymakers in academia and industry with the goal of protecting human health and the environment. The authors call for the explicit inclusion of nanowaste management into multinational agreements.
full paper: https://www.nature.com/