Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging from Plants (S2UPPlant)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Materials Science & Metallurgy

Abstract

In recent times, our enthusiasm for "disposable" plastics culture has been replaced by a more environmentally and carbon-conscious ethos that has created a strong desire amongst consumers and producers for greater use of recyclable or biodegradable materials. Whilst there are already some examples of such plastics in use (e.g. shrink wrapping for magazines or BioWare plates and cutlery) their relatively low volumes of usage, slow breakdown rates in the natural environment and widespread confusion with conventional plastics mean that this little more than a token effort at present. Similarly, while reducing single-use or unnecessary plastic packaging is very important, some packaging is still required to maintain food quality, shelf-life and international distribution networks. With this project, we plan to supplant the widespread use of fossil-derived plastics with materials made from naturally derived sources, such as wood (cellulose) and plants (sugars). These materials will degrade more easily in the natural environment, and result in no additional carbon being returned to the biosphere. By changing the genetic code of the plants, or blending with other additives from food or agricultural waste, we can engineer materials with new functional properties, such as improved strength or better protection, resulting in a reduction in overall volume of plastic packing used to keep food fresh. We will also ensure that these new plastics are compatible with existing recycling infrastructure to enable maximum reuse before degradation.
Of course, changing wholesale from fossil-derived to plant-derived feedstocks will entail major changes to our economic and environmental processes. At present, many sources of natural feedstocks are in direct competition with food resources and are unprofitable to produce at large scales compared with feedstocks for conventional plastics. By assessing the impact of switching to plant-derived sugars and making better use of waste products from food and forestry industries, we will explore the trade-offs between the benefits of plastic packaging and the impacts of its production and disposal, both for existing plastics and new natural feedstock alternatives. Success of the project will result in fulfilment of many of the UK Plastic Pact 2025 challenges and help to achieve the objective of establishing the UK as a leading innovator in smart and sustainable plastic packaging.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description BEKO PLC 
Organisation Beko PLC R&D Centre
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Working with BEKO scientists to design biocompsotable packaging for white goods and business-to-business applications.
Collaborator Contribution (i) Provision of staff time to remotely attend project meetings and Steering Board panel (est. 1 day per quarter over course of 3-year project at £1,000 per day = £12,000 in-kind) (ii) Provision of staff time and facilities for in-house standardised measurement (ca. 10 samples over course of 3-year project at £1,000 per sample = £10,000 in-kind)
Impact Met with BEKO scientists to discuss strategy around biocompostable packaging for white goods (June 2021)
Start Year 2020
 
Description Cambridge Display Technology Limited 
Organisation Cambridge Display Technology
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Working with CDT scientistis to explore possible applications of biocompostable films with high barrier properties.
Collaborator Contribution Senior researcher to attend monthly project meetings (in-kind value £9,000) and provide advice on: o polymer processing to make films and scale up; and o degradation and barrier testing know how; and Member of management team to join the steering panel and attend quarterly board meetings (in-kind value £6,000)
Impact Meeting with CDT scientists to discuss possible uses of biocompostable polymers with high barrier properties (June 2021)
Start Year 2020
 
Description Centre for Transdisciplinary solutions to the Food - EnvironmEnt Dilemma (TransFEED) 
Organisation University of Nottingham
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Collaboration with Dr Gleb Yakubov (University of Nottingham) and Letter of Support (24/5/21) agreed on application for the delivery of the "Centre for Transdisciplinary solutions to the Food - EnvironmEnt Dilemma (TransFEED)".
Collaborator Contribution Knowledge exchange, including of workshops and scientific seminars in the areas of plant cell wall structure, hemicelluloses and mucilages, polysaccharide and cellulose processing and biotransformation.
Impact Knowledge exchange, including workshops and scientific seminars in the areas of plant cell wall structure, hemicelluloses and mucilages, polysaccharide and cellulose processing and biotransformation.
Start Year 2021
 
Description PepsiCo International Ltd 
Organisation PepsiCo
Department PepsiCo, UK
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Working with scientists at PepsiCo Ltd to design biocomostable packaging for snack foods.
Collaborator Contribution (i) Provision of staff time to attend project meetings and Steering Board panel (est. 1 day per month over course of 3-year project at £1,000 per day = £36,000 in-kind) (ii) Provision of plastic film materials (virgin PLA and PHA, PHA/PLA-clay composites) for mechanical and barrier property testing (10 kgs of each, est. market value £2,000 in-kind) (iii) Provision of staff time and facilities for in-house standardised measurement and evaluation of novel polysaccharide film permeability (ca. 20 samples over course of 3-year project at £1,000 per sample = £20,000 in-kind)
Impact Met with PepsiCo scientists to discuss strategy around biocompostable packaging (June 2021)
Start Year 2020
 
Description Sustainable Polymer-based Advanced Materials 
Organisation Henry Royce Institute
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Meeting on 3/6/2021 with Centre for Process Innovation (CPI Wilton) to discuss large scale collaborative project in Sustainable Polymer-based Advanced Materials with University of Manchester and Henry Royce Institute.
Collaborator Contribution Meeting on 3/6/2021 with Centre for Process Innovation (CPI Wilton) to discuss large scale collaborative project in Sustainable Polymer-based Advanced Materials with University of Manchester and Henry Royce Institute.
Impact No outputs as yet.
Start Year 2021
 
Description C-THRU Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Participated in an online workshop entitled "Carbon Clarity in the Petrochemical Sector" on 15/9/21 (www.c-thru.org/events) at which there was a focus session on plastic waste. Held a follow-up call on 23/9/21 with Paul Davidson, the SSPP Challenge Director, to discuss possible linkages with the C-THRU project and SSPP.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL http://www.c-thru.org/events
 
Description GEF21 Plastics: Pollution, Pandemic, Pandemonium 
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 Delivered an invited presentation on biocompostable plastics as the European representative at international workshop on plastics and the circular economy organized by the Global Engineering Futures foundation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Global Research & Innovation in Plastics Sustainability 2021 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Participated in the Global Research & Innovation in Plastics Sustainability (16 to 18/3/2021). Presented the S2UPPlant work via oral presentation on Material Flows and in a poster presentation at virtual booth to industry and academics.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://ktn-uk.org/events/global-research-innovation-in-plastics-sustainability/
 
Description Interview with the Japan Times 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact JAE gave interview with the Japan Times (22/12/2020) in which he discussed the topic of whether Japan can embrace an alternative approach to plastic. Published online on 21st February 2021 (https://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2021/02/21/environment/japan-plastic-alternatives/)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2021/02/21/environment/japan-plastic-alternatives
 
Description Manufacturing Always On: Technologies on Sustainable Packaging. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Interviewed by representatives scientific modelling software company 3DS BIOVIA on the role of molecular simulations in improving design of biocompostable materials.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Materials Eyes newsletter 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Supporters
Results and Impact S2UPPlant project was featured in Spring 2021 issue of Materials Eyes newsletter for alumni of Department of Materials Science & Metallurgy at University of Cambridge. Published online (https://www.msm.cam.ac.uk/sites/default/files/uploads/mat-eyes-pdfs/material-eyes-issue36-spring2021.pdf)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.msm.cam.ac.uk/sites/default/files/uploads/mat-eyes-pdfs/material-eyes-issue36-spring2021...
 
Description Outreach talk to students and alumni of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Supporters
Results and Impact Investigators spoke about their work in S2UPPlant in "Fresh Thinking at Fitz: Making Plastics Fantastic (again)", an outreach talk to students and alumni of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge (4/2/2021). There were over 100 attendees online.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description RE.USE - reusable takeaway system 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Meeting on 11/5/2021 with founders of local Cambridge start-up RE.USE, who are interested in sourcing biocompostable alternatives for plastic packaging for takeaway foods.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description SSPP ER Workshop - Social Science 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Participated in an online workshop organised by SSPP at which the sociological and behavioural aspects of plastic waste (including film packaging) were discussed.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Sustainable Packaging: Protecting Products and the Planet 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Participated in workshop organized by Royal Society entitled "Sustainable Packaging: Protecting Products and the Planet" on 2/7/2021.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021