Researchers are exploring and developing exciting new materials and industrial processes that manufacturers are bringing to market very rapidly. Substitution of traditional materials with novel ones has taken place historically in many areas of manufacturing, but the pace of change today is unparalleled.

These new materials are lighter in weight, stronger and more energy efficient to produce and use, and allow new processes and reactions to take place that have previously not been possible (in renewable energy generation, for example). Their development means that the demand for some raw materials is growing exponentially – the rare earths required for wind turbines and mobile phones being a well-known example. At the same time, there is a growing demand from the developing world. Both of these factors mean that in future the Earth’s population will have to manage with less material per person, on average. Hence recovery and reuse of the materials or their chemical constituents are crucial.

And yet some of these novel and smarter materials pose problems when their whole life cycle is considered. On their first use, they offer potential energy savings, but without ways of recovering them from mixtures of materials, or of reusing components made from them, they are likely to end up lost in landfill. This could be taking us further away from a sustainable circular economy, regardless of the energy savings.

(Source: ‘New Materials and the Circular Economy’ published by Environmental Scientist, Journal of the Institution of Environmental Sciences, March 2015)

Knowledge Centre

This section includes a number of reports and research on sustainable materials, materials for the circular economy, Fibersort, glass, material flows, secondary raw materials, Sustainable Materials Management (SMM), images and infographics.