Designing-out Plastic Waste

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Mechanical Engineering


We will develop new enzyme catalysed recycling technology for laminate films with our development process involving circular economy economic models, materials flow models, materials property analysis as well as biochemical engineering (Objective 1). In parallel we will also identify design flaws and undertake feasibility studies of design interventions in plastic economy, led by expertise from our Industrial Steering Committee (Objective 2). We also recognise that we need to inspire the public to understand the value of plastics and to motivate them to engage with the new technologies and systems that will be developed to a circular economy of plastics. Indeed their cooperation and engagement is vital to the success of the UK Plastics Pact. To do this we will create a research interface for the public called the Plastics Waste Innovation Hub. This will bring together different disciplines within UCL, from other UK research institutions, industry, policy experts, and in dialogue with the public help the UK progress towards the goals of the UK Plastics Pact (Objective 3). Our mode of working will be to hire six post-docs each from a different discipline as represented and recruited by our PI and Co-Is. They will be co-located to form the core of the Plastics Waste Innovation Hub. These researchers will work together with our project coordinator, managed by our PI and Co-Is, to achieve all three objectives. We will split the work between them to take advantage of their discipline specific skills, but they will also work as a design team, creating system solutions to meet our Objectives.

Planned Impact

The aim of this research project is to help design-out plastic waste and enable the UK move to a circular economy of plastics. Of course this will take longer than the 18 month time period of this research project, but we have identified three short-term objectives which together build a strong platform for future research. We envisage specific impact as follows:

Enzyme Catalysed Molecular Recycling
We will develop new approaches for molecular recycling and synthesis of plastics using enzymes, including the proof of principle of the bioengineering involved, the materials properties produced, models for materials flow, life cycle analysis and a business case for integration in the circular economy of plastics.

Plastic Waste Innovation Hub
We will establish a multidisciplinary creative hub where a growing community of researchers, external industry partners, and the government will strengthen existing links and create long-term research programmes in the area of plastic waste and the circular economy. Our six PDRAs will emerge as systems thinkers with an in-depth knowledge of the plastic waste problem and potential solutions; they will be ready to innovate and play an important role in the future of the UK plastics economy. Similarly the twelve students who undertook summer studentships will have an insight into the future economy and be better equipped to contribute to it.

Public Champions of Sustainable Plastic Packaging
We will have a strong public presence as well as an important educational outlook. We will inform public debate and supply new data and insight into the public discourse on the important role of plastics in society, and particularly in reducing food waste. We will inspire a new generation to take up the challenge of tackling the plastic waste problem and the move to a circular economy.


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