Safe-by-Design – Strengths and shortcomings of an ambitious concept

Are nano-specific concepts like "safe-by-design" (SbD) suitable to minimize potential environmental risks as early as possible? Could its implementation improve the safety of innovation processes (from production to disposal)? A recent publication by the Institute of Technology Assessment of the Austrian Academy of Sciences examines the strengths and shortcomings of SbD.

Graphic: project team

Production and use of engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) and nano-enabled products is increasing but nanosafety-relevant information for chemical risk assessment is sparse. This leads to much uncertainty and makes the early integration of safety in the innovation process indispensable.

To investigate the applicability of the SbD concept and to explore its strengths and weaknesses, we simulated the material flow analysis of a nanoclay-containing coffee capsule in a theoretical case study. Nanoclay (montmorillonite) is classified as safe food contact material (FCM). However, there are safety concerns regarding consumer exposure to ENMs if the nanoclay migrates into a foods or drinks from the packaging materials. Potential release during the use phase cannot be entirely excluded under certain conditions, such as hot water at high pressureThere can potentially also be risks to the environment or human health during end-of-life stages.

The SbD concept itself can be seen as an additional approach for structured handling of knowledge gaps and uncertainties along the value chain of a product. Currently there is an insufficient description of the practical implementation, and no clear added value for users. The authors conclude that the implementation of SbD on a voluntary basis seems unlikely and the SbD approach should be implemented in existing legal frameworks or standards.  In addition, the concept mainly focuses on manufacturing phase of a product and needs to be expanded for use-phase and disposal-phase. The SbD concept should be further expanded to address ecological, social, and economical aspects in a holistic way.



Testing the Applicability of the Safe-by-Design Concept : A Theoretical Case Study Using Polymer Nanoclay Composites for Coffee Capsules.
(Pavlicek, A.; Part, F.; Gressler, S.; Rose, G.; Gazsó, A.; Ehmoser, E.K.; Huber-Humer, M. )

Sustainability 2021, 13, 1–21, doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/su132413951.

ITA Project SafeNanoCap