Workshop Summary: Lifecycle perspective of nanomaterials

The second workshop organised as part of the nanotechnology project funded by the Villum Foundation and the European Commission was held on the 9th of December 2015 in Brussels. The three-year project is led by ECOS, CIEL and Öko-Institut. Marking the second year of the project, this workshop addressed lifecycle aspects of nanomaterials to an audience consisting of NGOs, academics and industry. Over 100 participants joined in Brussels and from around the world via live-stream. Below is a summary of the presentations given from the project leaders, as well as the European Commission and the EEB. The text is available in full here

Overview on the crucial aspects of nanomaterials in the lifecycle

Bjorn Hansen, Head of Unit for Chemicals, Biocides and Nanomaterials at DG ENVI, European Commission

To develop a truly circular economy, one needs to move away from linear thinking and conceive molecules which are recyclable and non-toxic throughout the lifecycle. Information gaps about the composition of nanomaterials make them unfit for recycling. In addition, bridging the information gap for waste treatment companies on whether a post-consumer waste contains nanomaterials could help level the playing field between secondary raw materials and virgin materials. With very few harmonised end of waste criteria EU-wide, there is a need for substance checks of waste materials exiting the waste phase – one way forward could be the tracking of nanomaterials in products. This could also help address the recycling of complex materials containing nanomaterials and facilitate the design of nanomaterials which can be recycled, remanufactured and reused.

Bjorn Hansen’s presentation is available here.

Nanomaterials in waste streams

Piotr Barczak, Policy Officer – Waste, European Environmental Bureau (EEB)

Given the little knowledge there is about nanomaterials, Piotr Barczak urges to adopt the precautionary principle to avoid repeating the case of asbestos. The EEB advocates for the removal of problematic nano-molecules from the product at the design stage, a level-playing field between secondary raw materials and virgin material through REACH, as well as long-lasting (nano)-products which can be recycled continuously to minimise waste generation. The traceability of nanomaterials must be improved as there is currently little knowledge about their exact properties, posing not only problems to recyclers, but also raising questions about the behaviour of these molecules when released into the environment, or when they enter the human body.

Piotr Barczak’s presentation is available here

Energy and resource-efficiency in the production stage of nanomaterials

Martin Möller, Deputy Head of Division – Sustainable Products Material Flows, Öko-Institut

There is a common belief that nanomaterials are more resource-efficient and perform better than traditional materials. Martin Möller suggested questioning this hypothesis, outlining the high energy demand in the production of, for example, nanotubes. Through two case studies, he showed that it is of crucial importance to assess the energy and resource efficiency of nanomaterials from production, throughout its’ application and end-use phases in order to identify potential benefits or burdens. The lifecycle approach can prove that the technological replacement potential of nanomaterials has, in some cases, considerable rebound effects.  

Martin Möller’s presentation is available here

Villum Fonden Project – presentation of the group’s activities and project outcomes with regard to the lifecycle of nanomaterials

Doreen Fedrigo-Fazio, Senior Policy Officer, ECOS

In terms of lifecycle aspects of nanomaterials, the Villum project partners have contributed to both European and international standardisation efforts, the most notable of which are:

  • CEN TC 352/WG1 – “Life cycle assessment” project
  • CEN TC 352/WG3 – “Management and disposal of waste from manufacturing nanomaterials” project
  • CEN TC 352/WG2 – “Nanotechnologies – Guidance for the Responsible Development of Nanotechnologies” project, to be soon issued as a New Work Item Proposal
  • OECD/ SG 9 – Guidance manual on the Environmentally Sustainable Use of Manufactured Nanomaterials

Doreen Fedrigo-Fazio’s presentation is available here

Nanomaterial waste in the production phase and in post-consumer waste

Andreas Hermann, Senior Researcher – Environmental Law & Governance
Andreas Köhler, Researcher – Sustainable Products & Material Flows, Öko-Institut

In the production phase, nanomaterial waste can be either be generated as part of the product itself, or as a by-product/residue. Legally, nanomaterial waste should fall under the EU’s waste framework directive, even though none of the regulations and directives it is composed of do not explicitly mention nanomaterial waste or foresee thresholds or treatment obligations for nanomaterial content in waste streams. Uncharacterised nanomaterials which are not mentioned in REACH raise additional questions, especially considering the hazard potential of manufactured nanomaterials. In light of the specificities of nanomaterials, these aspects influence certain principles of waste management, and more specifically producer responsibility, the ban on mixing of waste, as well as separate waste collection.

In practice, it is possible to keep waste streams separate in the early production stages of nanomaterials – however post consumption waste is much more difficult to characterise, and generally ends up in a mixed waste stream. In order to prepare the safe handling and recycling, recovery or disposal of nanomaterials that are in the waste stream, it is important to examine their specificities. The state of uncertainty about the fate of nanomaterials prompts taking a precautionary approach, and should require the characterisation and accurate reporting of the material. As nanomaterial waste is rarely minimised at the start, it is important to address this innovation gap to foster waste prevention in the sector.  

Andreas Hermann and Andreas Köhler’s presentation is available here