Resource Use

£1.5 million university research project targets plastic waste streams

The University of Manchester’s ‘One bin to rule them all’ research project has been awarded £1.5 million worth of funding from UKRI.

The funding comes under UKRI’s Smart and Sustainable Plastic Packaging (SSPP) Challenge as part of its Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF). A total of £8 million was awarded to 10 university-led research projects.

Waste falling from conveyor belt at a recycling facilityThe project will aim to increase compliance with recycling by developing ‘one bin’ to hold all plastic-like items. It will also seek to improve recycling infrastructure to create more usable recycled plastic products.

Led by Prof Michael Shaver, Dr Maria Sharmina and Dr Helen Holmes, the project will bring together a cross-sector group of 17 industry partners and local and national authorities, including Biffa, Britvic, Co-op, Defra and SUEZ.

Prof Michael Shaver, who is Director of the Sustainable Materials Innovation Hub and Sustainability Champion for the Henry Royce Institute, commented: “It is clear that improved recycling infrastructure at a national level needs to be driven by industry finding value in recycled materials.

“Through the ‘One bin’ project we will work with companies, waste management specialists and local governments to collectively develop robust business models that derive real value from recycled plastics.”

The consortium will work together to solve three key challenges in plastic recycling: improving chemical and mechanical recycling methods, creating value from reused plastics for industry, and understanding consumer behaviours that lead to recycling compliance.

Prof Shaver continued: “As a polymer scientist, it is clear that the overwhelming challenge of plastic waste management can not be overcome with materials science alone. We can improve the recyclability of plastics but we need to understand how people interact with waste streams to ensure they are fit for purpose. The ‘One bin’ project’s holistic approach will innovate the creation, use and disposal of plastics simultaneously.”

Commenting on the need for academic and industrial collaboration to support recycled plastics across supply chains, Senior Lecturer in Energy and Sustainability Dr Sharmina said: “It is clear that improved recycling infrastructure at a national level needs to be driven by industry finding value in recycled materials.

Dr Holmes, who is a Lecturer in Sociology and will primarily focus on the third challenge of understanding consumer behaviours to increase recycling compliance, said: “Throughout this project we will identify barriers that consumers face when recycling in domestic settings.

We can then translate this knowledge into shaping future consumer practice that will support compliance with a ‘One bin’ approach and put high quality recycled plastics back into the supply chain.”