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 world looks very different from this time last year. The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the centrality of science, research and innovation, accelerated some changes already in the works, but also exposed our weaknesses. In September, Horizon looks at how the pandemic is reshaping Europe in areas including health research, work, tech, transport and food – and how research can contribute to Europe’s recovery over the coming years. We will also be covering the European Research & Innovation Days at the end of the month, which will bring together scientists, policymakers, entrepreneurs and citizens to debate how research and innovation can ensure that the transition to a post-coronavirus society is sustainable, inclusive and resilient.
In August, Horizon looks at one of the features that makes Earth unique and habitable: plate tectonics. We explore what we know – and still don’t know – about how the shifting plates beneath our feet shape our planet. We speak to researcher Dr Kate Rychert, who wants to understand what makes a plate plate-like, and delve into one of the outstanding mysteries in the subject – how and why plate tectonics began. We find out about the link between mountain formation, erosion and climate change, and we look at what moonquakes and marsquakes can reveal about tectonic activity elsewhere.
The ability of certain fish to heal damage to their hearts could lead to new treatments for patients who have suffered heart attacks and may also help to unravel how the lifestyle of our parents and grandparents can affect our own heart health.
A strange species of cavefish is helping to reveal why heart attacks cause permanent damage.
‘Industrial symbiosis’ is encouraging industry byproducts to be used for new purposes.
Dr Kate Rychert studies ocean plate structures.