• Question: Is your work or waste product from your work harmful to the environment??

    Asked by 255smgd32 to Pete, Natalie, Keith, Abbey, Aaron on 15 Nov 2015.
    • Photo: Natalie Garrett

      Natalie Garrett answered on 15 Nov 2015:

      That is a very good question. Environmental effects of the chemicals in my lab are a big consideration. We are legally required to dispose of things in a responsible way. Also, we have to write risk assessments (which is like when you try to figure out what could go wrong and what you’d do to stop it from happening – a bit like if you were in Final Destination!) when we work with dangerous chemicals. Part of the risk assessment is a section on how you intend to dispose of the chemicals.

      Some of the chemicals I work with are toxic, some are carcinogenic, some are teratogenic (which means they could cause problems for any pregnant people exposed to the chemicals). Some of these chemicals we bag up and send to a licensed waste management company to dispose of safely, and some of them we can make safe ourselves before disposing of them via normal waste management methods.

    • Photo: Peter Burgess

      Peter Burgess answered on 16 Nov 2015:

      I work in solar power so overall, my work benefits the environment.
      It’s important not to lose sight of where you can improve even when you are doing well. When solar panels are on a rooftop, there isn’t much they can do to harm the environment. It’s mostly at the end of life and especially in manufacturing that environmental harm can take place.

      Making solar panels involves some pretty nasty chemicals like poly-vinyl fluoride and solvents. There are also a small amount of solar panels made using cadmium which is fantastically poisonous.
      The best plan to minimise these issues is to minimise the amount of material you need for solar panels in the first place (e.g. making the silicon cells thinner, increasing the overall efficiency of the panels).

      Solar panels last a long time, usually at least a few decades and as a fairly new technology there haven’t been great numbers that have reached the end of life yet, however the industry has developed the PVCycle programme to collect and recycle solar panels when they stop working. Sometimes the components can be refurbished and used again in new solar panels but usually they panels will be split into their individual parts and these will be shredded and used as raw materials, sometimes for the solar industry but sometimes for other industries as a lot of the materials are in many things (silicon, glass, aluminium, silver…)

    • Photo: Aaron Boardley

      Aaron Boardley answered on 16 Nov 2015:

      My work and waste products will be very similar to yours at school – I use a computer, pen, paper, and electricity. It’s no better or worse than thousands of other office-based jobs. We do our best to be good to the environment – we recycle paper, food waste and other recyclables, and energy-efficient lights that turn off automatically, and so on.

      We work with all kinds of engineers who do different things – and some of these may have more of an environmental impact than others, but this is an aspect that is always talked about, and the evidence is weighed up by experts.