Circular Plastic: Utilising frontier technology and user-centred design to add value to plastic waste, facilitating entrepreneurship and employment

Lead Research Organisation: Aston University
Department Name: College of Engineering and Physical Sci

Abstract

This cluster brings together five previously funded GCRF projects which aim to tackle the ever-growing challenge of managing plastic waste in underfunded DAC Low Middle Income Countries (LMICs) using technologies such as 3D Printing. 3D printing has been recognised as a leading frontier technology which should be utilised within international development by the UK Department for International Development, UNICEF and the United Nations (Ramalingam et al., 2016; UN, 2018). Currently, the technology is at a 'tipping point', where it is becoming a feasible manufacturing technique and is considered to be the cornerstone of the next industrial revolution (Rauch, Dallasega and Matt, 2016). This game-changing technology is expected to have a substantial impact in LMICs. The project utilises this technology and local plastic waste as the material used in the 3D printers to create new products. It is fundamentally important to develop solutions to the problems caused by plastic waste, especially in LMICs which have poor infrastructure and inadequate waste management systems (Plastics Europe, 2018). It is also critical that frontier technologies (3D printing) are developed and their potential explored in LMICs as they provide a method to leapfrog traditional manufacturing, which is highly capitally intensive and has the ability to create new businesses and support wealth generation.

This new network enables researchers to develop two network hubs in Rwanda and Nigeria which will convert plastic bottles into filament for 3D printing which not only significantly adds value to the plastic waste, but also enables the creation of new products (such as homeware, prosthetics, medical components) and new enterprises and businesses. This project will, therefore; support the synthesis of current technology development, create twelve product concepts with local communities and help develop business models. This knowledge will be disseminated during a design workshop at each hub, developing new entrepreneurship skills and a legacy online resource which will enable other hubs to be started in DAC countries.

The project outcomes will be achieved through the following work-packages:

WP1 - Synthesis current technology research to understand the process (De Montfort University)
WP2 - Create two new network hubs in DAC countries to understand the potential of the technology. (Aston University with support from NGO Tech for Trade)
WP3 - Translate design documentation into an accessible format (toolkit, video) which can be accessed around the world. (Aston University)
WP4 - Build design capability workshops to demonstrate the potential application of the technology and support entrepreneurship and employment (Loughborough University).

The outcomes of the project will be embodied in an interactive website, toolkit and video which has direct relevance for anyone wishing to develop a hub using this model and create employment (direct/indirect) that will ultimately contribute to the alleviation of poverty as identified in the UN2030 Agenda.

Once established it is envisaged that the network created will grow and conduct pioneering research into solutions to plastic waste management and utilise frontier technology in GCRF funded regions.

Planned Impact

The two network hubs created during the project are in underfunded GCRF regions (Rwanda and Nigeria) and will acquire enhanced knowledge of the opportunities and challenges relating to developing valuable products from plastic waste. Embodied as project case studies these hubs will demonstrate the potential for frontier technologies to create employment and entrepreneurship opportunities, this knowledge will be rolled-out to an international audience in DAC countries through the website, toolkit and video. In addition, local design workshops will be held at the hubs and have been identified as a key part of the project as it enables the transfer of knowledge from the UK and well funded GCRF regions to those less funded. The design workshop will focus on employment and wealth creation for the local community utilising the technology and invite participation from leading local representatives such as government, academia, industry, design, engineering, craft, business and staff from key international charities operating in the country.

By nature, the initial hubs created in the project will have limited reach. For this reason, it is envisaged that they will act as regional hubs for follow-on funding with spokes being developed in neighbouring countries and communities. To support this, the resources created will be globally accessed via the internet and capacity to enable new startups beyond the completion of the funding, global dissemination will be facilitated and interest maintained for stakeholders wishing to:
- Establish their own hub in and associated manufacturing enterprise in DAC countries.
- Capitalise on the design-driven approach to enterprise.

The project outcomes will, therefore, be promoted in each of the hubs and then the web resource through the UN Innovation Network (https://www.uninnovation.network/), UK Government Frontier Technology Livestreaming (https://www.gov.uk/international-development-funding/technology-provider-window-for-frontier-technology-livestreaming) and Makernet Alliance (https://makernetalliance.org/new/) network, these significant networks will maximise global reach of the project and will enable exponential growth of the research objectives.

Specific outcomes to facilitate impact will be:

- Interactive website with video and booklet pdf download as a knowledge transfer resource. The key elements of the website will be the synthesise of current technology and case studies of the new hubs which have been established. The project video will support this and help stakeholders understand challenges/opportunities have been identified through the project.

- 200 printed project booklets encompassing key content from the website, to be distributed to future hubs and spokes in DAC countries.

- Design workshop events in each of the hubs Rwanda and Nigeria supported by the PI/CIs with local industry engagement

- Two academic journal papers (Design Studies and Additive Manufacturing)

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title 6 x Product Case Studies 
Description 6 products were created following a user-centred design process. They were manufactured and tested in Kenya, Rwanda and Nigeria. The products include: Custom Fruit Picker Adaptable Boat Baler Sand Dredging Adaptor Modular Fish Farming System Customised Machete Peeler Non-Electric Milk Cooler 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2021 
Impact These products demonstrated the creative design potential for turning plastic waste into new products. The approach enabled the people to engage with the process and benefit from the output. 
URL https://www.circularplastic.net/projects-3
 
Description The project developed a network of researchers and NGOs to take plastic waste and turn it into filament for 3D printing to create new products which met local needs.Two hubs were created in Nigeria and Rwanda which supported the existing hub in Kenya. Each of these hubs tested the process of creating new products through 3D printing and developed an understanding of local plastic waste management through a mapping exercise. It was concluded that there is a realistic opportunity to create valuable products from the waste as shown through the development of six case study products; Custom Fruit Picker, Boat Bailer, Milk Cooler, Cassava Peeler, Modular Fishing and a Sand Dredging Bucket Adaptor - which were awarded a Silver award in an international design award. These products were designed to meet local needs in Kenya, Rwanda and Nigeria and the design was informed by a design workshop, product testing and manufacturing in respective countries.

It was also identified that the extrusion equipment needed to make the filament for 3D printers needed optimising due to the varying temperatures, humidity, external factors such as dust in these locations. To do this a theoretical optimisation model was created and tested to support machines set up in rural communities.

Finally, it was identified that although the three hubs were suitable there was a need to develop small scale manufacturing centres with supported a wider range of recycled materials, these were designed and proposed in the project outcomes.
Exploitation Route The three ODA recipient countries, Kenya, Rwanda and Nigeria will continue to use and develop the knowledge gained from the project and continue to make and develop products that meet local needs.
Sectors Creative Economy,Education,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

URL https://www.circularplastic.net/
 
Description Innovation for African Universities
Amount £100,000 (GBP)
Organisation British Council 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2021 
End 09/2022
 
Description Chatham House event - Circular economy solutions to plastic pollution in Africa 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact This Chatham House event was held to disseminate the findings of the projects to representatives from the consulates of the 5 countries, where project activities were held.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Circular Plastic Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 2 workshops each with about 25 participants, were held in Nigeria, ( University of Lagos and Pan African University). Primary focus of the workshop was to disseminate findings from the projects as well as inspire local buy in.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Launch Event and Workshop at the University of Nairobi, Kenya 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The findings from the study, project video and outputs were presented to an audience of 60 professionals and postgraduate students. They reported an increased level of interest in the circular economy and have started to integrate the process of turning plastic bottles into filament for 3D printing in their curriculum.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Podcast for COP26 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Conducted an interview and presentation for Aston Originals which discussed the research project in relation to COP26 (climate change conference) including the linking of international research with UK policy. 67views at time of writing.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UgSVUVqjh4c&ab_channel=AstonOriginals
 
Description United Nation Innovation TechLearnTalks - 3D Printing for International Development 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Invited speaker as an expert in 3D printing for international development to lead a TechLearnTalk for United Nations employees and other charitable organizations. The talk introduced the research, current technology and discussed the application of 3D printing in UN organizations and the impact it could have.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.uninnovation.network/techlearntalks-gallery/2020/12/16/5llct1ywqoahc8olrpfhv463t26hmt
 
Description User Centred Design Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact 22 members of the public conducted a user-centred design workshop online to generate insights for new products which can use 3D printing and recycled plastic waste. This community engagement workshop supported the design and development of novel solutions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.circularplastic.net/projects-3