Advancing Creative Circular Economies for Plastics via Technological-Social Transitions (ACCEPT Transitions)

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University of Belfast
Department Name: The Vice Chancellors Office

Abstract

The rapidly worsening problem of the accumulation of wast plastics in the environment has been highlighted by recent media attention. Waste plastics impact on health, the environment and the economy currently, it represents inefficient use of the planet's reserve of oil.

This ambitious, pioneering proposal explicitly frames the opportunities to realise a sustainable and resilient plastics circular economy within a 'socio-technological transitions' approach that integrates innovation and creative design thinking across technological, policy, consumer behaviour and supply chain management domains. It leverages against a network of key stakeholders combining government, industry and academia to achieve its aims and is geographically focused within a representative region of the UK.

Integration and management of logistics is a fundamental dimension of organisational strategy within manufacturing, and an understanding of the supply chain is crucial for the development of a circular plastics economy. Within the supply chain, the potential of the exemplar projects needs to be assessed, particularly with respect to energy, carbon and cost implications, so that hotspots can be identified and managed, and impacts relative to the baseline can be assessed.

A 2015 ReNEW report into the Circular Economy in Northern Ireland (NI) estimated that more than 13,000 jobs could be created if the province moved to an innovative circular economy, prompting Derry City and Strabane District Council to develop a "zero waste circular economy" strategy. However, the need to support the value chain within the UK is critical: as exemplified by Closed Loop Recycling Ltd., who, despite significant investment, went into administration (2015) due to the higher cost of recycled PET vs that of the virgin material. Parallels can thus be drawn with the renewable energy market where low cost oil and gas hampered growth thereby necessitating policy interventions. Furthermore, improving the resilience of the sector by improving the connectivity of the supply chain and providing raw material assurances as well as understanding longer term stakeholder expectations of the plastics circular economy are important considerations. Unlike renewable energy it can be argued that the size of such an economy needs to contract until it is matched by the sectors ability to sustainably produce the monomer constituents. Such technologies exist but at present these are generally not economical. This highlights the sector's need to transition to a downsized circular economy when compared to current potential levels and hence it is important to consider policy innovations needed to both support 'just transitions' which lead to the creation of 'green and decent' jobs.

Planned Impact

Who might benefit from this research?

Belfast City Council
Cherry Pipes

How might they benefit from this research?

Policy
Economics
Environment
Society
Technology

Publications

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