In an editorial recently published in the open-access journal Materials, researchers discussed the impact of materials on the environment.
Study: Measurement of the Environmental Impact of Materials. Image Credit: kira-TeamDNA/Shutterstock.com
In the 20th century, global material use climbed by a factor of eight, reaching more than 10 tons per capita per year. Negative environmental effects can occur at any point in a material's life cycle, from its creation from natural resources to its usage and disposal. It's difficult to quantify a material's environmental impact quantitatively.
The so-called IPAT formula developed by Holdren and Ehrlich in 1971, where environmental impact (I) is defined as the product of affluence (A), population (P), and a technological term (T), defined as the reciprocal of material productivity or efficiency (T = 1/e), is used to identify this driving force.
The population continues to grow, and economic growth is frequently accompanied by an increment in material productivity. Man-made materials can be manufactured from natural resources or recycled garbage. Laboratory tests that address important use scenarios under accelerated conditions can be used to mimic the environmental impact of materials and products during their use phase.
When these studies are paired with exposure trials utilizing artificial weathering that mimics field circumstances, a greater knowledge of the material's underlying mechanisms can be acquired. To enable regulators to set limit values and producers to adjust their goods in order to minimize the release of dangerous compounds, it is critical to research the complicated and dynamic leaching processes of substances from various materials.
About the Study
In this study, the authors discussed the impact of materials on the environmental compartments of water, soil, and air. The leaching and emission processes, as well as the mechanisms that underpin them, were presented. The mobility of extremely small particles, such as colloids or nanoparticles, was considered.
The team illustrated the release of chemicals from materials owing to interaction with water and presented their quantification by using eluates from a variety of materials, including polymer-based materials and primary and secondary construction materials.
The researchers discussed various exposure testing and mass transfer techniques for polymer materials. They used accelerated simulations at a laboratory scale to investigate the leaching characteristics of irrigated building structures built of carbon-reinforced concrete. Evaluation techniques were explored to permit the development of threshold values. The observation of worm reproduction under the impact of leachates from building items was used as an example of a test that required just moderate time and effort.
The authors investigated the emissions from natural building materials to indoor air using large emission chambers. The scenario of emissions of formaldehyde from wooden toys was also examined. The use of zeolitic minerals as soil conditioners and slow-release fertilizers was studied. A life cycle analysis (LCA) was used to examine the environmental impact of adding CaO to improve performance. Column leaching tests were used to determine environmental compatibility, and they were shown to be beneficial for both characterization and quality control. The fundamental mass transfer concepts of column leaching tests were discussed.
Leaching emissions into the environment had an impact on surface waterways, groundwater, and soils. Some studies demonstrated that referring to the solid matter content of hazardous chemicals was insufficient and that the processes that lead to their release must also be considered. Another component of environmental simulations involving materials used in construction products was the requirement for accurate data on pollutant emissions, notably in the case of volatile organic compounds (VOC) in indoor air.
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Geosynthetic materials were used to make coastal protection products. This had advantages such as long service life and low weight, but it also posed the risk of adding another source of microplastic particles into the environment. The key element impacting the aging of geotextiles was found, and their simulations yielded a half-life of 330 years for the 50% loss of the strain. Furthermore, leachates did not have any negative ecotoxicological impacts.
When waste materials were used instead of fresh resources, the environmental impact of extracting raw materials from natural deposits can be reduced. It was demonstrated that adsorption parameters could be calculated in batch leaching tests with different liquid-solid ratios. The release of hazardous compounds during manufacture, usage, or end-of-life could be used to assess the direct environmental impact of materials. The indirect environmental impact of materials was attributed to the associated energy consumption, production emissions, and natural resources depletion.
In conclusion, this study elucidated that nature's sink function, as well as the ecosystem for all negative influences, is limited. The authors emphasized that when recycled waste products are appropriately described in terms of their environmental compatibility, they may be useful in this regard. They also believe that global material use will continue to rise in the future and, as a result, authorities, producers, and users must identify ecologically friendly materials.
Simon, F.G., Kalbe, U., Measurement of the Environmental Impact of Materials. Materials 15(6) 2208 (2022). https://www.mdpi.com/1996-1944/15/6/2208/htm