What should we do with nanomaterials at the end of their useful lives?

A new report on nanomaterial waste regulation has just been published by the Washington DC-based Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN).

PEN report on nanotechnology waste disposal

In “Where Does the Nano Go? End of Life Regulation of Nanotechnologies”, the report’s authors Linda Breggin and John Pendergrass look at how nanomaterials enter the waste stream and find their way into landfills and incinerators, and, eventually, into the air, soil and water.

According to PEN it is important that we consider how the regulatory system treats nanomaterials at each stage of their lifecycle. And with over 500 nanotechnology consumer products already on the market we should address the issue now before nanomaterial waste disposal becomes a pressing, practical issue.

Aimed primarily at a US audience, the report looks at the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), but the discussion has far wider relevance than to a single nation. Others such as the UK’s Royal Society have emphasised the need for a lifecycle approach to nanotech oversight, but while there is significant agreement on principles, the details have yet to be properly addressed.

“Will regulation designed to deal with end-of-life issues work for nanotechnology?,” asks PEN Director David Rejeski. “If not, regulators will need to determine what must be done to provide adequate levels of protection for humans and ecosystems.” In the PEN report this is done through looking at existing laws, and applying the analysis to two hypothetical companies.

Rejeski notes that there is a potential contradiction in the US approach, and this has to do with whether or not nanomaterials are treated as new substances under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). He adds: “It it hard to imagine that the Environmental Protection Agency would apply a different definition of nano within the RCRA now that it has come out with a preliminary call on nano under the TSCA.”

Further reading: Where Does the Nano Go? End of Life Regulation of Nanotechnologies, Linda Breggin & John Pendergrass, Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, July 2007.

Article first published in Nanomaterials News.