Interdisciplinary for technological product waste generation

Product waste is the generally final sink of material flow. A high-accuracy estimation of technological product waste generation needs interdisciplinary support at least from environmental science, industrial ecology, social science, management science, and geological science.

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The information and communication technology revolution has significantly shaped the human landscape from living and transportation to use. As the fashional goods like car and smartphone, for instance, they are becoming indispensable for our life. But when they reach the end of life after the years of utilization, massive product waste or called anthropogenic mineral, will be generated. The potential environmental risk from their recycling and disposal has been identified. The shift from wonderland to the wasteland is calling for an accurate estimation for product waste generation towards sound management.

Nevertheless, there is no detailed study to illustrate the generation and evolution of product waste and uncover its recycling contribution for the future supplier. Several scholars from China and the U.S. initiated this study in 2017 and fully demonstrated the whole landscape of resource generation and distribution in product waste. The interdisciplinary support at least from environmental science, industrial ecology, social science, management science, and geological science is devoted to answering the following questions:

  • How about the market consumption for one product from the emerging to booming?
  • How about the product substitution imposed by technology updating affect the waste generation?
  • What is the basic law of similar-function product competition in society?
  • What is the unique mechanism of material metabolism related to technological products?
  • How about the human consumption manner affect the waste generation?

I believe that the obtained data have many extensive contributions and implications for future geology, mineralogy, circular economy, and high-tech industry.

The data descriptor can be found here.


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Ogunseitan, O. A., Schoenung, J. M., Saphores, J. D. & Shapiro, A. A. The electronics revolution: from e-wonderland to e-wasteland. Science 326, 670-671, doi:10.1126/science.1176929 (2009).

Zhang, G., McAdams, D. A., Shankar, V. & Mohammadi Darani, M. Technology Evolution Prediction Using Lotka–Volterra Equations. J Mech Design 140, doi:10.1115/1.4039448 (2018).

Zeng, X., Ali, S. H., Tian, J. & Li, J. Mapping anthropogenic mineral generation in China and its implications for a circular economy. Nat Commun 11, 1544, doi:10.1038/s41467-020-15246-4 (2020).

Zeng, X., Ali, S. H. & Li, J. Estimation of waste outflows for multiple product types in China from 2010–2050. Scientific Data 8, 15, doi:10.1038/s41597-021-00796-z (2021).

Xianlai Zeng

Associate professor, Tsinghua University

Dr Xianlai Zeng's interests cover urban mining, resource sustainability, waste management, and circular economy. He serves as the chief tehcnical advisor of BCRC, UNEP (2016-), technical advisor of UNDP (2015-2016), visiting professor of Coventry University (2012), Macquarie University (2017), and Fulbright visiting fellow for Yale University (2018-2019).

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