World Engineering Day: Promoting responsible design

Feb 25, 2020

Engineers Australia features a story and video about work by our Director, UNSW Professor Veena Sahajwalla, on her research and industry collaborations to reform waste as part of new design and production processes to reduce waste. It is published on their Create site.

The first World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development will be held 4 March 2020. To celebrate, Create asked members of the profession how engineers can contribute to each of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.

GOAL 12: RESPONSIBLE CONSUMPTION AND PRODUCTION

Engineers are using their skills to reduce waste, reuse more materials, recycle things that have reached the end of their usable life and repurpose where possible.

The global material footprint is rapidly growing, outpacing population and economic growth.

According to the United Nations, should the global population reach 9.6 billion by 2050, the equivalent of almost three planets could be required to provide the natural resources needed to sustain current lifestyles.

Sustainable consumption and production aims at “doing more and better with less, which means getting smarter about how we use resources like food, water, energy, textiles and minerals.
Thankfully, engineers like Professor Veena Sahajwalla are on the job and exploring ways to reduce, reuse, recycle and repurpose.

Small moves, big impact

Scientia Professor Veena Sahajwalla, an ARC Laureate Fellow and Engineers Australia Honorary Fellow, is using the science of micro-recycling to show that everything that exists in a physical form has worth.

Sahajwalla is the founder and Director of SMaRT@UNSW, the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology.

It works with industry, both local and global, as well as governments of all levels, global research partners and not-for-profits to develop innovative solutions for what it describes as one of “the world’s biggest waste challenges”.

Sahajwalla said micro-recycling recognises that complex products like laptops or phones contain a number of recoverable materials.

“The science we are developing, called micro-recycling science, is to reveal what happens at the micro level and below when materials react with each other,” Sahajwalla said.

“It’s not just about the metals, it’s not just about glass or plastics, it’s about every individual material and every component and every part that is so intricately connected that needs to be recognised and reformed into high value outputs.

“If we look at the example of a magnet that contains a rare earth element like neodymium, how do we isolate that element in order to recycle it?

“That comes back to understanding micro-recycling science. If somebody gave me a brand-new machine that can crush these magnets down to a fine powder, that is not going to help me. But the science will show us a way.”

Go to Create to read the full story and watch the video which features War on Waste presenter and creator Craig Reucassel on Veena’s work and entrepreneur Bruce Jeffreys of Dresden Vision who collaborates with Veena in making glasses from recycled materials.

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