Waste as a resource in the circular economy

The complexity of materials and products is increasing as technology continues to evolve. Novel materials, so-called "advanced materials", must be examined at elementary and material level for their recyclability. Many everyday products such as packaging often consist of different combinations of materials (e.g: External coating made of polyethylene, gas barrier made of aluminium, closure cap made of polypropylene). Electronic devices are also complex products that contain not only recyclable materials but also harmful substances such as heavy metals or halogenated flame retardants. In the sense of the circular economy, these recyclables should be kept in circulation, but pollutants should be discharged and concentrated in safe sinks.

A basic prerequisite for waste management decisions is a material- or product-related evaluation. Such an assessment is carried out on the basis of literature data, manufacturer information, safety data sheets, in-depth analyses and chemical analyses. In addition, risk analyses of various substances, such as nanomaterials, polymers, fillers, additives, etc., are carried out using interdisciplinary approaches in order to assess potential hazards (persistence, bioaccumulation potential, toxicity) and possible exposure pathways. This information is the basis for "design for recycling" or "safe by design concepts" in order to subsequently increase the quality of secondary raw materials in a holistic approach. To this end, the entire recycling system must be examined and optimised in terms of technical, ecological, economic and social aspects. Current research priorities include: