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Despite limited information on nanomaterials in waste, existing data is valuable for waste operators


A new report shows that limited data is available on the amount of waste streams containing nanomaterials in the EU. However, despite this, existing public data on waste is highly valuable for waste managers, scientists, regulatory bodies, and potentially consumers.

Helsinki, 15 November 2021 – With the current data available, it is not possible to give an accurate estimate of the quantities of nanomaterials in different waste streams. Nevertheless, scientists can use existing public databases to estimate mass flows of nanomaterials to waste management facilities and the fate of nanomaterials in the environment. Such generic mass flow models have been widely used to provide a general overview of the distribution of specific nanomaterials in the environment.

The study also finds that existing research demonstrates that incineration and wastewater treatment are highly efficient at limiting emissions of some of the most commonly used nanomaterials to the environment. Substantial progress has also been made in characterising and measuring nanomaterials, which should help more accurate data on nanomaterial waste to be generated in the future. 

Since 2020, manufacturers and importers of nanomaterials have been legally obligated to report when nanomaterials (i.e. nanoforms of chemical substances) are placed on the market through their REACH registrations. However, information on specific amounts of nanoforms manufactured or imported is not required under REACH, as the regulation requires manufacturers to report the total quantity of the chemical manufactured instead, including both the nanomaterial form of the chemical, as well as non-nanomaterial forms.

Although public databases have been helpful, the lack of quantitative information about nanomaterials creates some challenges. For example, analysis of exposure to workers at waste management facilities is needed to better understand what activities pose the highest risks of exposure to manufactured nanomaterials and to enable the most effective risk mitigation measures to be determined.

Finally, the study found that while scientists are actively researching applications for nanomaterials that would aid in building a circular economy, much of the research remains at the academic level at this stage. More work will be needed to translate this research into practical and economically feasible applications. 


The report, entitled “Study on the Product Lifecycles, Waste Recycling and the Circular Economy for Nanomaterials” was commissioned by the European Union Observatory for Nanomaterials (EUON), which is hosted and maintained by ECHA. EUON provides information about existing nanomaterials on the EU market. It is funded by the European Commission 

The study was made by RPA Europe.

Further information

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) is an Agency of the European Union implementing EU chemical regulations. We, together with our partners, work for the safe use of chemicals.