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.
Private companies are increasingly active in the space sector – from high-profile businesses such as SpaceX or Virgin Galactic to the nearly 3,000 small businesses that provide elements for the European Space Agency’s space programme. In March, Horizon explores the impact of this on research and innovation. We speak to a space law researcher about how to avoid the problems emerging from an increasingly crowded orbit, such as collisions. We look at how to minimise the environmental impact of satellites and delve into efforts to build a reusable European launcher for small payloads. We also look at the challenge of assembling, maintaining and repairing objects in space and the developments in space robotics that could help.
More than 30% of car journeys in Europe are under 3km long and could potentially be swapped for different, greener, forms of transport. In February, we look at alternative ways of getting people and goods around cities - a challenge known in the industry as the problem of the ‘last mile’. We speak to Karen Vancluysen of cities network POLIS, who says that cities may have to introduce some unpopular measures to change the way people move around, and we look at how soon commuters will be able to rely on automated shuttles to ferry them from door to door. We delve into the environmental problems caused by unsuccessful home deliveries and what can be done about them, and the new technologies that could change the way goods are delivered.
Developing new propellants for satellites to replace toxic hydrazine would make launching and handling satellites safer but it also requires disrupting current systems, according to researchers.
Moving away from hydrazine would require disrupting existing systems.
Paleolithic diets weren’t only about meat but included a wide variety of plant foods, researchers say.
The more satellite launches we do, the bigger the risk of damage or debris, says Dimitra Stefoudi.