Worldwide Resource News Digest – December 2022
Australia: PPE-strengthened concrete
Engineers at RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) have developed a way of using disposable personal protective equipment (PPE) to reinforce concrete, making use of pandemic-generated waste.
The RMIT team are looking into how three types of PPE – isolation gowns, face masks and rubber gloves – might be recycled into concrete.
Studies carried out by RMIT identified that shredded PPE could increase concrete strength by up to 22 per cent and improve resistance to cracking. Next steps for the research include evaluating the potential for mixing PPE streams and working towards field trials.
Commenting on the research, joint lead author Dr Rajeev Roychand commented: “While our research is in the early stages, these promising initial findings are an important step towards the development of effective recycling systems to keep disposable PPE waste out of landfill.”
Germany: Recycling batteries at scale
In September, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) announced a new project ‘LiBinfinity’, which aims to develop an energy-efficient process for recycling lithium-ion batteries on a commercial scale.
Materials that cannot be separated mechanically will be processed using water and chemicals at relatively low temperatures and using comparatively little energy, to recover resources such as lithium, cobalt, nickel and manganese.
With the potential to recover up to 96 per cent of battery materials, KIT will check the recyclate is suitable for use in new batteries and is able to meet the EU’s proposed Battery Regulation.
By 2023, the partnership aims to have a mechanical dismantling plant built to begin stage one of the process. Stage two, subject to available support from the public sector, will then see the opening of a plant where the hydrometallurgical processing of the battery materials will take place.
India: Ban on single-use plastic items
Since July 1, India has banned 19 single-use plastic (SUP) items.
The list of banned items includes plastic-stemmed cotton buds, plastic flags, balloon sticks, candy sticks, ice-cream sticks, plates, cups, glasses, straws and cutlery.
Enforcement of the ban will be upheld by state governments – local bodies and pollution control authorities – with violations punished with fines or even jail terms.
Environment minister Bhupender Yadav denied appeals from the industry to defer the July 1 deadline, stating: “We have met the industry representatives several times on the issue. We have, in fact, been discussing it with all stakeholders since 2018.
“Lots of consultation was held and it was decided to ban those SUP items which cannot be collected, cause a litter menace, cannot be recycled and hence are an environmental and health hazard.”
Japan: Recovering rare metals
Start-up company Emulsion Flow Technologies (EFT), established by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, has created a way to extract, separate and purify rare metals from lithium-ion batteries with high purity at low cost.
The company says it has developed a one-step extraction process ‘100 times faster’ than the conventional, three-step approach of mixing, settling and separating. It also attains 99.99 per cent purity for the extracted metals, which could be used to produce new batteries.
EFT solvent technology uses a process that combines and separates oil and water: extracting metal components on droplets of oil in a watery solution, which coalesce and can then be collected.
CEO Yuji Suzuki highlights that the ability to easily recover rare metals may ‘solve social issues’ tied to their extraction, like environmental destruction, human rights violations, and resource conflicts.
Poland: Urban park furniture from recycled clothing
A ‘pocket park’ featuring urban furniture – benches, chairs and tables – that look like they are made from wood but are in fact made solely from recycled textiles and metals, opened in Katowice, Poland in September.
The city park’s furniture was created using ‘VIVE Texcellence’ material – a durable textile that looks exactly like wood, but is actually 95 per cent old clothes.
Clothing that is no longer good for wearing is shredded then thermally treated and solidified before being made into the urban furniture, with some secondary metals incorporated for durability.
Pocket parks are located in urban environments where space is scarce, with greenery serving to prevent the formation of local heat islands.
Katowice is one of Poland’s largest cities. Host of the 2018 Climate Change Conference (COP24), Katowice aims to be a world leader in climate action.
US: Critical minerals refinery
The US Department of Energy (DOE) has announced funding of up to $156 million, from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), for a ‘first-of-a-kind’ facility to extract and separate rare earth elements (REE) and critical minerals (CM) from ‘unconventional sources’ such as the ‘nation’s vast quantities of waste streams from mining and energy production’.
Currently, the US relies on offshore suppliers for 80 per cent of its REE and CM and the facility aims to lessen this dependence. REE and CM are important to manufacturing the clean energy technologies central to the nation’s net-zero ambitions.
In June, findings from the Biden-Harris Administration’s supply chain assessment found that ‘over-reliance’ on foreign sources posed national and economic security threats, leading to recommendations including the expansion of domestic mining, production, processing, and recycling of CM and REE.
Vietnam: Recycling beverage cartons
A carton recycling initiative, announced by BVRio group’s Circular Action, alongside Tetra Pak and the Packaging Recycling Organisation Vietnam (PRO Vietnam), promises to recover and recycle 3,000 tonnes of Vietnam’s used beverage cartons.
Taking place in Ho Chi Minh City until March 2023, the Circular Action Programme (CAP) scheme utilises an app to manage carton collections in collaboration with local beverage and food manufacturers.
It is expected to create jobs for around 200 informal waste pickers, who will be responsible for collecting the cartons.
Traceability and monitoring tools, such as the KOLEKT app and reporting platforms, will register all actors across the supply chain, ensuring full traceability.
According to the partners, CAP is a customised service based on engaging all parties through the waste supply chain, providing incentives for collection, sorting and recycling of waste materials.