The 'green' materials of the future, starting from those commonly found in supermarkets, will have to be designed in such a way as to really close the circle of the so-called circular economy, i.e. thinking from the outset if and how they can be recycled: this is the indicated path today in Rome, by the experts gathered at the Accademia dei Lincei conference on materials and the circular economy.
“It is essential to design materials already thinking about their end of life;
too often aesthetic and design criteria are followed exclusively, which lead to products that are all different from each other and therefore very difficult to recycle,” Gaetano Guerra of the University of Salerno, a member of the Academy and organizer of the conference, told ANSA.
"Companies' attention has grown on this aspect, but there is still a lot to do", continues Guerra: "The custom is to change even small aspects of the products, often to have negligible improvements or which in any case do not justify the complications which they then produce for the reuse of materials”.
From fibers to rubber, metals to rare earths, the massive production and consumption of many different types of materials, both natural and man-made, represents a boon, but also one of the world's biggest environmental problems.
“Plastic bottles are a virtuous example”, continues the lynx: “The market has spontaneously moved towards a product that is the same for everyone, and in fact it is one of those that is more widely recycled.
On the other hand, however, there are plastic cups: there are too many products, each one different from the other”.
Furthermore, according to Guerra, it is the producers of consumer goods that should also take charge of their circularity, thus also taking care of their end of life.
In fact, the conference aims to draw attention to the environmental problems generated by wrong ideas regarding the use of the material, by poor waste management, or by incorrect disposal rules and insufficient information.
Another fundamental aspect concerns current and future technologies, such as the smartphones that we all have in our pockets, which require elements that are starting to run out: "Some commonly used elements, such as zinc, gallium and germanium, are at risk of depletion within 100 years" , underlines the lincean, "and unfortunately we often throw them away without recovering them".
For example, the 14 projects chosen by the European Alliance for Raw Materials (Erma) go into this perspective, which thanks to an investment of 1.7 billion euros aim to lay the foundations of a European supply chain, capable of satisfying 20% of the demand for rare elements, now largely controlled by China.
The European Commission has also decided to encourage the research and extraction of these metals which are indispensable for the energy transition, which are fundamental components, for example, of the magnets of wind turbines and of the rechargeable batteries of electric cars.
Italy is also moving in this direction, for example by trying to reopen some old lithium mines.
But, according to Gaetano Guerra, this is not the answer to the problem: "The mines are part of a linear economy model, while we must move to a circular economy".