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Flows of engineered nanomaterials through the recycling process in Switzerland

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Caballero-Guzman Alejandro, Sun Tianyin, Nowack Bernd,
Project Mass flow analysis and environmental risk assessment of nanomaterials
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Waste Management
Title of proceedings Waste Management
DOI 10.1016/j.wasman.2014.11.006


© 2014 Elsevier Ltd. The use of engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) in diverse applications has increased during the last years and this will likely continue in the near future. As the number of applications increase, more and more waste with nanomaterials will be generated. A portion of this waste will enter the recycling system, for example, in electronic products, textiles and construction materials. The fate of these materials during and after the waste management and recycling operations is poorly understood. The aim of this work is to model the flows of nano-TiO2, nano-ZnO, nano-Ag and CNT in the recycling system in Switzerland. The basis for this study is published information on the ENMs flows on the Swiss system. We developed a method to assess their flow after recycling. To incorporate the uncertainties inherent to the limited information available, we applied a probabilistic material flow analysis approach. The results show that the recycling processes does not result in significant further propagation of nanomaterials into new products. Instead, the largest proportion will flow as waste that can subsequently be properly handled in incineration plants or landfills. Smaller fractions of ENMs will be eliminated or end up in materials that are sent abroad to undergo further recovery processes. Only a reduced amount of ENMs will flow back to the productive process of the economy in a limited number of sectors. Overall, the results suggest that risk assessment during recycling should focus on occupational exposure, release of ENMs in landfills and incineration plants, and toxicity assessment in a small number of recycled inputs.