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Global Learning (GL) Assignment

This assignment provides a brief background on materials use and waste management.  There are three topics provided.  Please select one topic only.

Topic 1:  Environmental challenges

Topic 2: Persistent waste materials in the environment (e.g., plastics, e-waste)

Topic 3: Endangered elements

The GL assignment should be submitted via Canvas before the last class of the semester (Thursday June 12, 2020).

Assignment:

Select only one of the topics and discuss the issue and develop an overview of the problem as described in the Topic below.  Your report should address the points as indicated, estimated of quantities, materials and other relevant information.

Please limit your report to 2-4 pages (appendices are OK) including figures, tables, calculations, references.

Background

There has been significant technological advancements since 1950s.  Technology adoption rates and product replacement cycles create challenges for materials supply and management of discarded products.

Topic 1: Environmental challenges

Select only one of the following challenges:

  1. Fresh water shortages
  2. Aging infrastructure
  3. Energy demands
  4. Global warming
  5. New diseases
  6. Security
  7. Waste management
  8. Food production and distribution
  9. Livable communities
  10. Sustainability
  11. Climate change and adaptation
  12. Resource depletion

Source:  Tansel 2020, JEM

Fig. 1. Major advancements since 1990.

Fig. 2. Technology penetration.

Fig. 5. World Population

Fig. 6. Most densely populated regions in the World.

Fig. 7. Water scarcity in the World.

Topic 2: Persistent waste materials in the environment (e.g., plastics)

Decomposition characteristics of plastics in the environment depends on both the conditions in the environment and the characteristics of the polymeric material.  Since majority of the plastics present in MSW are sensitive to photo oxidation, they can remain stable for longer times in the landfill in comparison to their transformation behavior when they are exposed to sunlight (i.e., floating on the sea surface). A wide variety of chemical additives are incorporated into the plastics.  Some additives are designed to stabilize the polymer and make it more resistant for degradation. For example, anti-oxidants and stabilizers used as additives inhibit the degradation of the polymer, while pro-oxidant additives make the plastics more sensitive towards degradation.  Presence of starch increases biodegradability of plastics; however, biodegradation of starch will not work without a pro-oxidant. The additives used in plastics are usually not covalently bonded to the polymer. Therefore, they can leach out from the plastic material as it degrades. Thus degradation rates of the plastics (even those with added starch) depends strongly on the type and amount of additives used.The half-life of most plastics is over 100 years in landfills or the environment.

PP: polypropylene, PS:polystyrene, PET: polyethylene terephthalate,  LDPE: lowdensity polyethylene, HDPE: high density polyethylene PVC: polyvinyl chloride

Select one type of plastic (PP: polypropylene, PS:polystyrene, PET: polyethylene terephthalate,  LDPE: lowdensity polyethylene, HDPE: high density polyethylene PVC: polyvinyl chloride) and discuss:

  1. where it is used
  2. how much is used and discarded
  3. provide preliminary calculations for use and discarding rates of the specific type of plastic

Topic 3:  Endangered elements

With rapid growth in innovation and technology development over the past several decades, an increasing number of elements in the periodic table are now used in advanced consumer products to perform specialized functions. At the same time, with the decreasing cost and increasing availability of the consumer products and their short use cycles; there has been increasing concerns regarding the availability of some of the elements in the future. The concerns for supply of materials and necessary elements include:

  • projected production quantities
  • available markets and projected market potential for products
  • changes in production or in available ore deposits in different countries
  • geopolitically concentrated production of materials
  • minimal or lack of end-of-life recycling efforts

The following periodic table has been developed by the American Chemical Society to bring awareness for the rate of utilization of some elements which are likely to be available in limited quantities.

Select one of the endangered elements and discuss:

  1. where it is produced
  2. where it is used
  3. production rate and consumption rate
  4. provide preliminary calculations for people using and discarding a specific type of products where these materials are used
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