RE3 - Rethinking Resources and Recycling

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Mechanical Aerospace and Civil Eng


As individuals, our daily routines rely on plastics in their many shapes and forms, whether as long lasting components of our homes and vehicles or as essential elements of important advances in medicine, water purification and infrastructure, or as packaging for cosmetics, food, drink, toiletries, cleaning products and healthcare products. These plastics are unrivalled materials: they are inexpensively synthesised, lightweight, recyclable and often deliver unmatchable performance. However, our love of plastics comes at a significant cost, as the environmental impact of these materials is massive, and growing. Genuinely sustainable plastics will need new forms of resource efficient materials, smart supply chains, and sustainable business practices, requiring holistic and integrated solutions.

This proposal brings together diverse groups from across The University of Manchester to tackle this grand challenge of plastic waste. We seek solutions to the challenge of plastics pollution through an integrated approach that explicitly couples Manchester's strength in sociotechnological understanding and influence to our industry-guided solutions across chemistry, safety, materials, engineering and social sciences. The goal is to create a concerted, focussed consortium of diverse individuals who will lead stakeholder conversations, pitch multi-disciplinary projects that build from our strengths, and incubate these projects into translatable solutions. Through these collaborative efforts we will develop 6-12 projects building from our diverse expertise in urban recycling, sustainable business models, invisible plastic waste, valorising waste plastic streams, and new degradable polymers, and through them aim to:

i) reduce the need for plastic by addressing demand,
ii) improve the materials used to deliver better performance and clean degradation,
iii) demonstrate new methods for recycling soft and mixed plastics/non-plastic films (currently very difficulty) and removal of micro plastics from source; and
iv) create smart circular economies that allow users to take ownership of and reduce plastic waste.

A multidisciplinary team of researchers at The University of Manchester will lead a portfolio of projects to tackle this grand challenge. Activities will be aligned with the first-of-its-kind Greater Manchester plan to drive down single-use plastics by 2020 and use the city-region as a living lab to innovate at speed and deploy solutions at scale.

Planned Impact

This 18-month project, through a unique collaboration of cross-disciplinary academic researchers, will work with our 12 external industrial and government partners (TESCO, CO-OP, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Samsung, UK-CPI, Great Manchester Combined Authority, Chatham House, Argent Energy, Axion, B&M Longworth, and PlasticsEurope) to deliver significant impact to the challenge of eliminating plastic waste in a circular economy. This impact will be broadly felt due to our academic expertise from the core disciplines of Science, Engineering, Humanities, Biology, Medicine & Healthcare at The University of Manchester inspired by and coupled to our cross-sectoral industrial, government and policy partners. These partnerships will identify opportunities, challenges and key solutions to eliminating plastic wastes and reducing their environmental impact. The project outcomes are expected to deliver impacts on:

* The general public, by influencing consumer behaviour change, responsible consumption and waste disposal, through involvement as stakeholders, through press, public engagement and social media communications integrated through the Manchester City Living Lab.

* Our society and environment, by reducing plastic wastes and CO2 emissions through better recycling methods to capture soft plastic film and mixed plastic wastes and development of more rapidly biodegrading plastics for invisible and challenging waste streams.

* Retailers and consumer goods manufacturers, by providing an opportunity to adopt new packaging materials, new recycling methods, new micro-plastic removal methods, new packaging technologies, and new consumer insights through direct engagement and collaboration between academic and industry, valorized by access to IP through licensing.

* Government, regulators, policy makers and local councils beyond Manchester, through piloting new measures to eliminate plastic waste, initially tested in Manchester through city lab projects, and subsequent knowledge transfer to the UK and beyond.

* The economy, by developing new business opportunities and markets for sustainable packaging, new rapidly degradable polymer materials, new recycling methods, all working towards a circular economy underpinning a multi-billion-pound European plastic sector.

* Our future leaders, the early career researchers who will have a unique experience to develop their key skills within the melting pot of this collaborative effort, providing training and experiential learning as a foundation for leadership roles in industry, academia and policy roles.


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