Journal article

Persistence of engineered nanoparticles in a municipal solid-waste incineration plant

More than 100 million tonnes of municipal solid waste are incinerated worldwide every year1. However, little is known about the fate of nanomaterials during incineration, even though the presence of engineered nanoparticles in waste is expected to grow2. Here, we show that cerium oxide nanoparticles introduced into a full-scale waste incineration plant bind loosely to solid residues from the combustion process and can be efficiently removed from flue gas using current filter technology. The nanoparticles were introduced either directly onto the waste before incineration or into the gas stream exiting the furnace of an incinerator that processes 200,000 tonnes of waste per year. Nanoparticles that attached to the surface of the solid residues did not become a fixed part of the residues and did not demonstrate any physical or chemical changes. Our observations show that although it is possible to incinerate waste without releasing nanoparticles into the atmosphere, the residues to which they bind eventually end up in landfills or recovered raw materials, confirming that there is a clear environmental need to develop degradable nanoparticles.

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