You will no doubt have seen the news last week that we are at an environmental ‘crisis point’. Global warming often dominates this discussion, but pollution is another issue that must be tackled with equal urgency.
The good news is that ever more innovative techniques are being developed to tackle this issue. We’ve outlined a few of these techniques below: –
As technology plays an ever more important role in daily life, the amount of electronic waste (E-waste) we generate is on the rise too. An estimated 53.6 Mt. (million metric tonnes) of E-waste was discarded in 2019, up from 44.7 Mt. in 2016 . Recycling of discarded electronics is therefore a necessity, however the recycling of small devices is often very difficult and can lead to problems of its own.
As a way of addressing this issue, researchers have developed a ‘dissolvable smartwatch’ – a fully functioning watch that can dissolve down into its component parts (and be easily recycled) within just 40 hours .
Plastic waste is another issue facing society. One solution to combat this, for instance, is the development and use of bioplastics, such as the hydroplastic polymer cellulose cinnamate (CCi) developed by researchers at the University of Göttingen.
This plastic can be created using a technique known as ‘hydrosetting’, where the plastic is moulded into shape whilst immersed in water and then dried into this set shape. Not only is hydrosetting less resource intensive than many other manufacturing techniques, but it also allows for a more environmentally (and economically) friendly recycling process .
As well as developing sustainable plastics for future use, it is also important to address the significant plastic pollution that already exists. Researchers have engineered a protein, PET2, that binds to the surface of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastics and accelerates their degradation .
Another innovative approach to plastic waste recycling has been developed to turn biodegradable cutlery into a foam using carbon dioxide and high pressures, where it can be repurposed as insulation for buildings .
Whilst excellent work is already underway to reduce and reverse the negative effects of pollution, so much more needs to be done. We don’t yet know how effective each of these novel techniques will be, and further innovation is needed to help our mission of saving the planet!
 Rautela, R., Arya, S., Vishwakarma, S., Lee, J., Kim, K. H., & Kumar, S. (2021). E-waste management and its effects on the environment and human health. Science of The Total Environment, 145623.
 Li, J., Liu, J., Lu, W., Wu, Z., Yu, J., Wang, B., … & Huang, X. (2021). Water-Sintered Transient Nanocomposites Used as Electrical Interconnects for Dissolvable Consumer Electronics. ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.
 Wang, J., Emmerich, L., Wu, J., Vana, P., & Zhang, K. (2021). Hydroplastic polymers as eco-friendly hydrosetting plastics. Nature Sustainability, 1-7.
 Nakamura, A., Kobayashi, N., Koga, N., & Iino, R. (2021). Positive Charge Introduction on the Surface of Thermostabilized PET Hydrolase Facilitates PET Binding and Degradation. ACS Catalysis, 11, 8550-8564.
 Lin, L., Lee, Y., & Park, H. E. (2021). Recycling and rheology of poly (lactic acid)(PLA) to make foams using supercritical fluid. Physics of Fluids, 33(6), 067119.