Dumped waste, from used nappies to industrial by-products, have long wound up in landfills and can take hundreds of years to decay. In October we speak to the scientists figuring out how to keep such items in use to reduce rubbish and create a so-called circular economy. We learn about new efforts to mine industrial waste for the rare metals that go into making aircraft parts, pacemakers and bicycle gears, and find out about the culture shift needed to develop a zero-waste society. We also speak to the researchers building a biorefinery to turn soiled nappies into fertilisers and raw materials, and look at whether seaweed could become the next plastic.
A significant amount of the single-use plastics that we use ends up in our oceans. As people increasingly ditch these plastics, seaweed — also known as macroalgae — and microalgae could be the solutions to the world’s plastic food packaging problem. These are being used to develop everyday items, from edible water bottles to coffee cups to biofuels.
Businesses and consumers need to stop thinking of products as things to own and move towards a culture of sharing and repairing if we are to fulfil the ambition of creating a circular economy, according to Felipe Maya, project and innovation manager at sustainable engineering firm Exergy, headquartered in Coventry, UK.
Thousands of soiled nappies that were destined to clog Italian landfill sites or incinerators are being redirected to a recycling plant that is turning them into streams of high quality raw materials, in a new process that it is hoped will be replicated around Europe.
The construction industry has a heavy carbon footprint, accounting for some 40% of global emissions, and yet, as the world’s population grows, demand for housing and building is only soaring. We kick off 2021 by looking at how the construction sector can become greener and some of the radical solutions required. We speak to sustainable architecture expert Dr Catherine De Wolf about the need to design recyclable buildings and how that will require a fundamental restructure of the way the construction industry works. We look at nearly zero energy wooden homes and investigate whether this material can help us kick our concrete habit – concrete being the most used substance on Earth. We home in on techniques to make cement greener and piezoelectric to light up spaces with the addition of vegetable waste, and at how self-healing building materials can prolong the life of civil infrastructures. And we explore the promise of fungal architecture to see whether structures grown from fungus can green the way we build.
In December, as the European Space Agency’s Gaia mission to create a precise 3-D map of a billion objects in the Milky Way releases its next tranche of data, we take an in-depth look at what we know – and what we don’t – about our home galaxy. We speak to astrophysicist Prof. Ralf Klessen about why it might enhance our understanding of the Milky Way to consider it as a constantly evolving ecosystem rather than studying different parts in an isolated way. We speak to scientists who are trying to image the centre of the galaxy, which is hidden from view behind giant dust and gas clouds, and we explore the latest research into how stars are formed. And finally, we find out what the galaxies surrounding the Milky Way can tell us about our home system.
As the first coronavirus vaccines started to be rolled out at the end of a tumultuous 2020, UK officials unexpectedly endorsed stretching the gap between the first and second vaccine dose by up to three months – an approach also considered by other countries.
There are about 1,500 potentially active volcanoes worldwide and about 50 eruptions occur each year. But it’s still difficult to predict when and how these eruptions will happen or how they’ll unfold. Now, new insight into the physical processes inside volcanoes are giving scientists a better understanding of their behaviour, which could help protect the 1 billion people who live close to volcanoes.
Pragmatic or dangerous – what do the experts say?
Better predictions of volcano behaviour could protect people and infrastructure.
Dr Kate Rychert studies ocean plate structures.