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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Chen H (2019) Upcycling food waste digestate for energy and heavy metal remediation applications in Resources, Conservation & Recycling: X

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Hickinbotham S (2020) Novelty Search for Shape Descriptors

 
Description Findings are being used in conjunction with the Education Authority in Northern Ireland to reduce costs associated with wastes, including single use plastics, across schools. The evidence and data analysis is being used to bench mark costs. Findings are being used to inform the development of a DRS in Northern Ireland. The project has also been used to inform an all-Ireland stakeholder cluster (academic and industry) on plastic circular economy.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Creative Economy,Education,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description Involvement in Venture School initiative run by the CirPlas project involving the training of students and external parties in entrepreneurial activities
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description Involvement with Education Authority on influencing policy towards the reporting of wastes within schools
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund - ESRC Internal Business Boost Funding (to study attitudes towards bio-based and recycled plastics)
Amount £4,000 (GBP)
Organisation Queen's University Belfast 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2019 
End 09/2019
 
Description Re-Imagining Engineering Design: Growing Radical Cyber-Physical-Socio Phenotypes
Amount £7,335,902 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/V007335/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2021 
End 04/2026
 
Title Plastic waste arisings in Northern Ireland 
Description Plastics are being increasingly used in a wide range of applications generating significant waste streams. This is driving policy interventions to increase circularity of plastics in the economic systems to reduce plastic waste and improve resource efficiency. However, the information on plastic waste flows is sparse and not widely available across regions and nations. In the present study, plastic flows in Northern Ireland including plastic products consumption, plastic waste generation and destination were quantified for 2018. Material flow analysis (MFA) was conducted for plastic waste streams through society and uncertainty of values in data sources was incorporated to further improve quantification. The findings from MFA of plastics in Northern Ireland for 2018 are shown in Fig.3. The total plastics consumption amounted to 214.3 ± 11.5 kt/yr. Packaging incurred the highest consumption among all the sectors with 101.1 ± 4.8 kt/yr (47%). Looking at the distribution of plastics in various consumption sectors, the commercial and industrial (33.1 ± 4.7 kt/yr) and construction (24.7 ± 1.0 kt/yr) formed 15% and 12% of total consumption, respectively. Automotive and electronics contributed to 4% and 3% of consumption. Sectors with the least consumption were recorded to be farm (0.8 ± 0.1 kt/yr) , healthcare (4.1 ± 0.6 kt/yr) and furniture (3 ± 0.3 kt/yr) with combined consumption of 7.9 ± 1.0 kt/yr (4%). The difference in the input and output contributed to stock changes in respective sectors, which is related to the in-use period of plastic products across various sectors. The total difference between input and output i.e. waste production stage and plastics consumption stage amounted to 65.3 ± 16.0 kt, which shows that the net increase in stocks was about 30% of the incoming quantity of plastic products. Plastics with least stocks were in the packaging sector, as packaging plastics typically have an average service life of 6 months (Bucknall, 2020). The construction sector showed the largest build-up of stock with 33% of total stocks in 2018. This is especially important as construction plastics can show service life of up to 35 years and the use of plastics in construction sector have been rising (PlasticsEurope, n.d.) due to versatility of plastics for use in intelligent buildings and prefabrication methods (BPF, n.d.). Moreover, legislative changes that are introduced to the long service life plastics will have impact on end-of-life management for these materials for decades to come. For instance, the legislative ban on phthalates happened recently due to their toxicity (UK GOV, 2019). However, some of these plasticizers are likely to be present in the long service life products and clear consideration to limit their toxicity (and release of toxic leachates) would be required during end-of-life management of these products (Pinvenko et al., 2016). The total waste production was 149 ± 11.1 kt/yr of which about 68% was contributed by the packaging sector. The next sector generating significant waste quantities was commercial and industrial with 16.6 ± 0.7 kt/yr. Much lower amounts of waste were produced by all other sectors, with a range from 0.5% to 7%. Only a minor amount (2%) of this total waste stream was reused, and this consisted of textile products and construction and demolition waste. Furthermore, about 49.3 ± 5.6 kt/yr (33%) of the waste flow was processed by mechanical recycling to secondary products without significant changes to their chemical structure. Lastly, plastic waste disposed of using landfill and incineration accounted for 92.2 kt/yr (62% of the total) and 4.2 kt/yr (3%) respectively. The preliminary results for this work were shown as Twitter Online Poster presentation in year 2020. The link for the same is below. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact This is the first study in Northern Ireland to include consumption of plastics and plastic stocks across various sectors, to provide information for the plastic stocks locked in various sectors which would enter the waste streams after the end of the useful life cycle. 
URL https://twitter.com/nehamehta230/status/1308000827777445889
 
Description Collaboration with E-JUST University (Egypt Japan University Of Science & Technology) 
Organisation Egypt-Japan University of Science and Technology
Country Egypt 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Ahmed Osman helped in initiating the collaboration between the two teams with the PI (Prof.David Rooney) from QUB and Prof.Sobhy from E-JUST university. That collaboration included access to data, equipment or facilities along with future collaboration on possible funding.
Collaborator Contribution The collaborators from E-JUST provide access to data that will benefit the current ACCEPT project in terms of mapping and understanding the current global plastic waste and also establishing a future collaboration between the two teams.
Impact There is ongoing research work on the data and mapping between the two multi-disciplinary teams with a possible publication.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Collaboration with Sultan Qaboos University 
Organisation Sultan Qaboos University
Country Oman 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We produce value-added products from mixed streams of low-value plastic waste
Collaborator Contribution Characterization techniques collaboration between QUB and Sultan Qaboos University
Impact Two publications during 2020-2021
Start Year 2020
 
Description Collaboration with University College London 
Organisation University College London
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Life cycle assessment using SimaPro for the conversion of healthcare plastic waste to fuels.
Collaborator Contribution Inputs in model development.
Impact The output from this work, has been accepted for oral presentation in the International Conference on Resource Sustainability, Dublin (30 June-2 July 2020).
Start Year 2019
 
Description Collaboration with researchers in EIT Food project 
Organisation European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT)
Country Hungary 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Involvement in waste mapping
Collaborator Contribution Waste Mapping and Characterisation: Applications in Biopolymer Development
Impact The work relates to the development of maps for agri-food resources for biopolymer production. The results from the work are accepted for presentation in International Conference on Resource Sustainability (Dublin, 30 June-2 July 2020), which is now postponed to July 2021. However, the paper was submitted to partner journal of the conference Resources Conservation & Recycling (SNIP: 2.584) in August 2020 which is in revision (comments received in Feb 2021).
Start Year 2019
 
Description Critical user involvement 
Organisation Guide Dogs for Blind Association
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We have been working with the local (Northern Ireland) branch of Guide Dogs to include their service users in developing our understanding of how they experience building products made from recycled plastics.
Collaborator Contribution Guide Dogs have facilitated access to their service users by identifying and recruiting research participants and facilitating group meetings.
Impact The collaboration has resulted in the collection of data from Guide Dogs service users that will contribute to the project objectives.
Start Year 2020
 
Description International research cooperation with the Laboratory of Sustainable Polymeric Materials (LAMPOLS) of the Brazilian Institute of Macromolecules Professor Eloisa Mano (IMA), Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) 
Organisation Federal University of Rio de Janeiro
Country Brazil 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Development of composite materials using virgin plastics/concrete waste and virgin plastics/red mud.
Collaborator Contribution Organifoilisation of inorganic fillers with stearic acid.
Impact This joint work improved the compatibility and adhesion of concrete waste and red mud to the polymeric matrix, resulting in better dispersion of the filler in the composite.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Loughborough University 
Organisation Loughborough University
Department Wolfson School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The Wolfson School and our team have partnered to tackle interdiscplinary challenges in engineering design. Our team brings geometry and design systems and processes skills and key industry partners from aerospace.
Collaborator Contribution The Wolfson School brings expertise in manufacturing systems and embedded intelligence and key industry partners from automotive and medical devices.
Impact None yet - main work programme is just beginning.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Plastic waste flows in Northern Ireland 
Organisation Belfast City Council
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Research collaboration to quantify plastic waste quantities and management routes in Northern Ireland.
Collaborator Contribution Formal analysis of the data and the methods to estimate plastic waste.
Impact The outputs from this research collaboration has been compiled and presented in the Second Joint NSFC-RSC Symposium on Sustainable Chemistry and Processes, University of York.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Plastic waste flows in Northern Ireland 
Organisation Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Research collaboration to quantify plastic waste quantities and management routes in Northern Ireland.
Collaborator Contribution Formal analysis of the data and the methods to estimate plastic waste.
Impact The outputs from this research collaboration has been compiled and presented in the Second Joint NSFC-RSC Symposium on Sustainable Chemistry and Processes, University of York.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Plastic waste flows in Northern Ireland 
Organisation Waste and Resources Action Programme
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Research collaboration to quantify plastic waste quantities and management routes in Northern Ireland.
Collaborator Contribution Formal analysis of the data and the methods to estimate plastic waste.
Impact The outputs from this research collaboration has been compiled and presented in the Second Joint NSFC-RSC Symposium on Sustainable Chemistry and Processes, University of York.
Start Year 2019
 
Description RIED - Bombardier Aerospace (now Spirit Aerosystems) 
Organisation Bombardier Inc.
Department Bombardier United Kingdom
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution QUB brings skills and new ideas in engineering design systems and a suite of partners interested in generic problems.
Collaborator Contribution Bombardier bring expertise in manufacturing and challenging manufacturing problems.
Impact None yet.
Start Year 2020
 
Description RIED - Denroy Plastics 
Organisation Denroy Group Ltd
Department Denroy Plastics Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution The research team is providing skills and new ideas in engineering design.
Collaborator Contribution Denroy bring practical industrial skills and advice in engineering design practice as well as challenging industrial manufacturing problems.
Impact None yet.
Start Year 2020
 
Description RIED - FAR UK Ltd 
Organisation FAR-UK Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution QUB brings skills and new ideas in engineering design and geometry handling and a wider partnership with shared interest in design.
Collaborator Contribution FAR-UK Ltd bring expertise in manufacturing and challenging engineering design and manufacturing problems.
Impact None yet.
Start Year 2020
 
Description RIED - JW Kane Precision Engineering 
Organisation IBS Precision Engineering
Country Netherlands 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution QUB brings new ideas and skills in design and a wider partnership interested in common challenges in aerospace manufacturing.
Collaborator Contribution Kane Engineering bring manufacturing expertise and challenging problems.
Impact None yet.
Start Year 2020
 
Description RIED - OxMet Technologies 
Organisation OxMet Technologies
Sector Private 
PI Contribution QUB brings skills and new ideas in engineering design and geometry handling.
Collaborator Contribution OxMet bring challenging industrial problems.
Impact None yet.
Start Year 2020
 
Description The winner of the international plastic competition 
Organisation Port Said University
Country Egypt 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The winner of the international plastic competition visited Queen's University on the week of 15-23th of February 2020 to work on his idea "Upcycling of plastic wastes and biological wastes as an ecofriendly scenario for water refinement"
Collaborator Contribution The team provides access to the lab and conducted the required experiments for that work with a possible publication in the near future.
Impact Peer-reviewed publication
Start Year 2020
 
Description University of York 
Organisation University of York
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have partnered with complementary expertise. QUB provides the growth models for designs to York who use these in their evolutionary models.
Collaborator Contribution We have partnered with complementary expertise. QUB provides the growth models for designs to York who use these in their evolutionary models.
Impact output number 4 - submitted for conference.
Start Year 2017
 
Description MISTRAL-ITN Early Stage Researchers Summer School 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact The oral presentation was delivered as part of the Summer School lecture of MISTRAL - International Training Network (Horizon 2020) on the milestones, journey and challenges during PhD (Things I wish I knew when I started my PhD).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The talk entitled 'Is sustainability possible in the plastics economy?' was delivered by Dr. Beatrice Smyth to general public and members of Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society, which led to interesting discussion on the developments in the plastics sector.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description EPS Postdoc Society 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact In November 2019, EPS Postdoc Society organised the first training program for Postdoctoral Researchers from Engineering and Physical Sciences Faculty for Postdoctoral Funding Opportunities & Rights. During this a talk was delivered to present the needs of EPS Postdoc Society, Challenges of Postdocs, next steps for the society.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Invited talk in the Arab Forum for Science Media and Communication 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact >500 general public and policymakers attended the Arab Forum for Science Media and Communication to raise the knowledge of the general public and policymaker toward hot topics in science such as plastic waste recycling, climate change, biofuel production,.. etc.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://arabforumsmc.com/
 
Description Life Cycle PRIF First Network meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The Life cycle work packages in the PRIF Network had the first meeting. The oral presentation detailed the objectives and results from WP2 of Advancing Creative Circular Economies for Plastics via Technological-Social Transitions (ACCEPT Transitions).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Life Cycle PRIF Network Meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The Second Meeting of PRIF network was attended by the Postdoctoral researchers and the investigators in Life Cycle Assessment group. The oral presentation highlighted the outputs of WP2 of Advancing Creative Circular Economies for Plastics via Technological-Social Transitions (ACCEPT Transitions).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description PRIF ECR Conference, University of Sheffield 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Three Postdoctoral researchers (Caoimhe Ní Dhónaill, Róisín McConnell, Neha Mehta) from Queen's University Belfast presented the work conducted as part of the project Advancing Creative Circular Economies for Plastics via Technological-Social Transitions (ACCEPT Transitions) in the PRIF Early Career Researchers Conference (University of Sheffield, Feb. 2020).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Plastic episode -01 (public engagement) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The first plastic episode was released on the 30th of January to increase the public awareness of the plastic problem globally with 473,681 Views on the social media.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.facebook.com/3elmTube1/videos/118785002822152/
 
Description Plastic episode -02 (public engagement) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The second plastic episode was released on the 6th of February on Ahmed's Scientific channel. That episode discussed the challenges associated with plastic recycling with overall 385,877 Views on social media websites.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.facebook.com/3elmTube1/videos/481814832483874/
 
Description Plastic episode- 03 (public engagement) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The third and final plastic episode was released on the 13th of February on the future and innovative solutions for the plastic problem with 599,163 Views on social media websites.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.facebook.com/3elmTube1/videos/2236113850025952/
 
Description Poster presentation for QUB Postdoc Showcase 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact About 100-120 Postdoctoral researchers across various faculties in Queen's University Belfast attended the Poster Presentation during the National Postdoc Appreciation week in 2019. During the poster presentation the highlights of the research on plastic waste were delivered.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://pure.qub.ac.uk/en/publications/poster-sustainable-solutions-for-the-plastics-economy
 
Description Poster presentation, Second Joint NSFC-RSC Symposium on Sustainable Chemistry and Processes 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The Poster entitled 'Sustainable routes for the plastics economy: A study of the scale of the problem, current legislation and solutions' was presented in University of York.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description QUB Postdoc Showcase 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact About 100-120 Postdoctoral researchers across various faculties in Queen's University Belfast attended the Pitch Presentation during the Postdoc National Appreciation week in 2019. During the presentation the highlights of the research on plastic waste were delivered under the title 'Plastic plastic everywhere but not any fish in the ocean'.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.qub.ac.uk/sites/StaffGateway/News/QueenscelebratesitspostdocsatPostdocShowcase2019.html
 
Description SPaRK COFUND cohort development week 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact The SPaRK COFUND (Marie Sklodowska-Curie doctoral training) programme had its second full cohort development week and the themes of the week were Collaboration and Internationalisation.I took part in Netwroking Lunch to discuss the Dos and Don'ts of international collaboration.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description The Plastic Waste Solution (NI Science Festival 2020) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Now is the time for a radical change in how we deal with plastic waste. If we fail, plastic will outweigh fish in our oceans by 2050. Mark Miodownik and a panel of experts from Queen's University (ACCEPT project) gave talks on the new research, technology, and social movements promising to create a zero-waste economy and find out how you can get involved and make a difference. This event is part of our Innovate UK Grand Challenges series which focuses on the global trends which will transform our futures.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://nisciencefestival.com/event.php?e=93
 
Description Twitter Poster Presentation in NPAW 2020 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact In National Postdoc Appreciation Week 2020, the Polymer Processing Research Centre in QUB hosted Twitter Poster presentation from Postdocs working on polymers. This poster was shared on twitter as part of that. it gathered 231 impressions on Twitter.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://twitter.com/nehamehta230/status/1308000827777445889