Disposal of industrial nanowaste

Recommendations for the environmentally compatible and safe disposal of industrial nanowaste.

What is nanowaste?

The germ “nanowaste” refers to waste consisting of synthetic nanomaterials or containing free or releasable nanoparticles. Nanowaste is deemed to be hazardous waste requiring special technical and organisational measures for its healthy and environmentally compatible disposal.

Currently mixed waste containing nanomaterials is disposed of together with conventional municipal waste. When waste management companies that accept source separated industrial and commercial nanowaste, they must ensure that the process for handling and treating it is safe for people and the environment.

Nanomaterials in waste streams

An OECD report on the current knowledge on the risks and impacts of nanomaterials in waste streams concluded that modern waste treatment plants are generally able to retain or eliminate nanomaterials. Nevertheless, given the varying properties of nanomaterials, the diversity of processes and technologies used at waste treatment plants and the varying composition of waste, there is still uncertainty as to the type and quantities of synthetic nanoparticles emitted by such facilities.

Added to this, nanomaterials themselves can have a negative impact on certain waste and water treatment processes. Surface-functionalised nanomaterials, for example, can slow the conversion kinetics of nanomaterials in wastewater treatment plants. Specific organic substances present in landfill leachate can stabilise nanomaterials and thus reduce the performance of the leachate treatment process.

Disposal of nanowaste

In autumn 2020 the working group deployed by the FOEN to address the disposal of nanowaste, which consists of representatives of the cantons, the federal authorities and industry and waste management associations, published a conceptual paper on the safe and environmentally compatible disposal of waste from the manufacturing and industrial and commercial processing of synthetic nanomaterials (“Umweltverträgliche und sichere Entsorgung von Abfällen aus Herstellung sowie industrieller und gewerblicher Verarbeitung von synthetischen Nanomaterialien”).

The goal was to clarify and evaluate the specific disposal measures required for commercial and industrial nanowaste.
According to the recommendation given in the paper, establishments where nanowaste is produced should:

  • Develop and implement a waste management system for the separate collection, interim storage and treatment of nanowaste, including appropriate documentation. It is not permitted to mix this nanowaste with other waste, and any release of nanoparticles is to be avoided.
  • Assure the pre-treatment of nanowaste within the establishment itself so that nanowaste loses its nano characteristics.
  • Minimise worker exposure and environmental emissions (for example by avoiding contact when handling powdered materials, using closed apparatus and complying with personal protective measures).

Further information can be found under ‘Documents’ and ‘Links’.

Last modification 26.04.2022

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