2002: A year of Asian waste streams and new uses for old materials

Japan led 2002 with new technology and strategies for recycling, while the US practice of shipping electronic waste to China was challenged by campaign groups. New uses for soybean oil, old tyres, nappies and flyash were developed by scientists, while eco-design was hailed as the solution to growing mountains of old mobile phones and TVs.

January kicked off with a report about Japan’s impending waste crisis. With the country running out of landfill, Japan is switching to a recycling-based economy (see related story). Elsewhere, an international conference set guidelines for the environmentally sound management of plastic wastes, warning that developing countries release persistent organic pollutants from the uncontrolled burning of plastic (see related story).

Cornell University released a web-based planning tool to help US farmers meet stringent pollution rules for animal waste (see related story).

A new use for soybean oil was revealed in February, where US scientists used the oil to dissolve polystyrene and thus shrink the volume of polystyrene going to landfill (see related story). Another US research group developed a light-weight construction material from recycled flyash from coal-fired power stations (see related story), and a clothing manufacturer was recognised for its environmentally friendly policies, including using recycled plastic to make into clothes (see related story).

March reported that the US sends up to 80% of high-tech electronics waste to China, Pakistan and India (see related story), while the country’s Department of Energy announced an accelerated clean-up programme for land contaminated from the Hanford nuclear power plant, which has been leaking radioactive materials for 40 years (see related story).

April saw a new soil test developed by Australian scientists (see related story), while a May report revealed that 130 million mobile telephones are discarded annually in the US (see related story). Landfill maintenance became the buzzword with a new system for repairing leaks without removing the waste (see related story).

In June, the Chinese Government pledged to clamp down on electronic waste imported from the US, following a campaign highlighting the plight of poor Chinese villagers employed to dismantle waste electronic equipment with no protection against hazardous components (see related story).

A US report claimed that Japan was leading the way with electronics recycling, and that government-run take-back systems in Europe were less effective than those run by industry (see related story).

July saw New York City terminate its glass and plastic recycling because of city budget cuts associated with the terrorist attacks of September 11 (see related story), while German researchers revealed a new infrared spectrometer to detect contaminated water using evanescence field technology (see related story).

A US report warned that regulatory standards for using sewage sludge as a fertiliser are based on out-dated science (see related story), while the Johannesburg Summit in August worked towards being a ‘zero waste’ event (see related story).

October launched the first transgenic system for removing arsenic from soil with genetically modified plants (see related story), while November hosted a conference on how Japanese eco-design could help businesses meet EU legislation on waste and recycling (see related story).

A nappy recycling programme was launched in California to turn four neighbourhood’s worth of nappies into fibre pulp for products such as wallpaper and oil filters (see related story), while US catalogue companies were reprimanded for failing to use recycled paper (see related story).

November also saw a Japanese electronics firm claim to have developed revolutionary plastic recycling technology (see related story), while two Californian campaigners launched a scheme to collect one million promotional CDs from internet company AOL and dump them on the company’s doorstep (see related story).

The year ended with the results of a Russian study to find new uses for old tyres. Scientists mixed powdered tyres with polyethylene to form a composite that could be used to tile roofs (see related story).

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