Environmental impact of nanosilver in products

Life Cycle Assessment and Release Studies for 15 Nanosilver-Enabled Consumer Products: Investigating Hotspots and Patterns of Contribution

A 2017 study has analysed the environmental impact of 15 products containing nanosilver, highlighting the contribution of this novel material to the items’ overall environmental burden.


Increasing use of silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) in consumer products as antimicrobial agents has prompted extensive research toward the evaluation of their potential release to the environment and subsequent ecotoxicity to aquatic organisms. It has also been shown that AgNPs can pose significant burdens to the environment from life cycle emissions associated with their production, but these impacts must be considered in the context of actual products that contain nanosilver. Here, a cradle-to-gate life cycle assessment for the production of 15 different AgNP-enabled consumer products was performed, coupled with release studies of those same products, thus providing a consistent analytical platform for investigation of potential nanosilver impacts across a range of product types and concentrations. Environmental burdens were assessed over multiple impact categories defined by the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Tool for the Reduction and Assessment of Chemical and Other Environmental Impacts (TRACI 2.1) method. Depending on the product composition and silver loading, the contribution of AgNP synthesis to the overall impacts was seen to vary over a wide range from 1% to 99%. Release studies found that solid polymeric samples lost more silver during wash compared to fibrous materials. Estimates of direct ecotoxicity impacts of AgNP releases from those products with the highest leaching rates resulted in lower impact levels compared to cradle-to-gate ecotoxicity from production for those products. Considering both cradle-to-gate production impacts and nanoparticle release studies, in conjunction with estimates of life cycle environmental and health benefits of nanoparticle incorporation, can inform sustainable nanoenabled product design.

More Information

  • Life Cycle Assessment and Release Studies for 15 Nanosilver-Enabled Consumer Products: Investigating Hotspots and Patterns of Contribution, Environmental Science & Technology, DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b05923, May 24, 2017.
  • Relative environmental impact of nanosilver in products may be marginal compared with impacts of other components, Science for Environment Policy Issue 499, 20 December 2017.

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