Recycling minister hails nanotechnology potential

Nanotechnology has a significant role to play in helping the UK to overcome resource scarcity but it needs to be developed responsibly, recycling minister Lord Taylor has said.

Speaking at an event in London last week (July 17) held by the Nanotechnology Knowledge Transfer Network, the minister warned that nanotechnologies could do great harm if developed irresponsibly – and told delegates there was a shared responsibility to manage the risks.

“We are all stakeholders when it comes to assessing and managing risk and this presents us with a shared responsibility,” he said. “It means maintaining an effective relationship between the Government and industry.”

Lord Taylor added that it was important that the nanotechnology industry shared information on good practice with other stakeholders in the sector to help safeguard the public and the environment.

“While we continue to build an evidence base on which to decide the nature of appropriate controls, it’s important that companies take steps to manage potential risks,” he said.

The Government has recognised the role of nanotechnology, both as a potential driver for economic recovery and as an important enabling technology that has huge potential across many sectors, including the waste and recycling industry.

On the packaging front, it is already paving the way for future innovations as companies look to optimise material performance in terms of product preservation and environmental impact.

Defra and BIS are taking a new collaborative approach to provide support for the UK’s fledgling industry. Part of this is a newly formed nanotechnology strategy forum, which will act as an advisory body comprising representatives from industry, regulatory bodies, academia and NGOs to help inform decisions and foster responsible development of the technology.

Last October, Lord Taylor and David Willetts, the Government’s science minister, held a roundtable discussion with representatives from the nanotechnology industry. One of the concerns raised was that industry and regulation appeared to be moving down parallel pathways.

“A number of reviews of UK and European legislation have found that existing frameworks can be adapted, but for regulation to be effective it must be backed up by an evidence of risk and such evidence is often lacking for nanomaterials,” Lord Taylor maintained.

He added: “We would, however, strongly argue against an over precautionary response, which responds to hazard without understanding corresponding risk.”

Nick Warburton

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