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Sustainable Materials Management
While there are a number of EPA and state programs that are helping to improve the material efficiency of the United States, there is no comprehensive materials management strategy at the federal level. Regulations and economic instruments seek to prevent or mitigate certain impacts, but rarely take meaningful account of upstream or downstream effects.
By considering system-wide impacts, sustainable materials management uses a life cycle perspective to cast a broader net than traditional waste and chemicals management approaches. For instance, industrial and product design following this management approach could lead to reduced virgin material use, as well as the reuse of materials that may reduce impacts throughout the affected system.
Sustainable materials management research will explore opportunities to implement effective strategies to ensure that material resources are managed and used efficiently through their life cycle, promoting economic growth, environmental quality, and sustainable development. Sustainability researchers will focus on rare earth elements that are critical materials in many emerging technologies for clean energy, communications, and advanced weapons systems. The objective of this research is to apply a life cycle approach to rare earth element acquisition, use, and end-of-life management in order to determine the potential impacts on the development of alternative energy sources, and emerging technologies. The work has direct ties to nanotechnology research.