A new collaborative venture led by The University of Manchester has been awarded £1.5m to enable simpler methods of recycling and to eliminate plastic leakage into the environment.
The ‘One bin to rule them all’ project aims to improve recycling by developing 'one bin' to hold all plastic-like items. It also aims to improve recycling infrastructure to create more usable recycled plastics that can be fed back into a circular economy.
The project aims to demonstrate a viable system to eliminate plastic release in the environment by identifying and creating value in plastic packaging waste streams and simplifying recycling for consumers.
To achieve this, The University of Manchester has brought together a cross-sector consortium of 17 industry partners and local authorities, including Ecosurety, to help solve three key challenges in the plastics life cycle:
- Improving methods of chemical and mechanical recycling
- Developing business models to derive value from reused plastic for industry
- Understanding consumer practices that lead to enhanced recycling compliance
Funding for ‘One bin to rule them all’ has been granted as part of UK Research & Innovation’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund – Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging which aims to establish a portfolio of academic-led research and development to address known problems and knowledge gaps in relation to plastic packaging.
Led by Prof Michael Shaver (Director of the Sustainable Materials Innovation Hub and Sustainability Champion for the Henry Royce Institute) alongside Dr Maria Sharmina (Senior Lecturer in Energy and Sustainability, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research) and Dr Helen Holmes (Lecturer in Social Sociology, The Sustainable Consumption Institute), the project will draw upon the University’s uniquely diverse research community, bringing together expertise from materials science, manufacturing engineering and social sciences.
Prof Shaver commented "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."
The project aims to create a need for recycled plastics across supply chains. Commenting on the need for academic and industrial collaboration to support this, 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. 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 third strand of the ‘One bin’ project aims to improve compliance with waste management streams. Dr Helen Holmes who examines consumer engagement within circular economies commented "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."
The ‘One bin to rule them all’ project builds on the academics partners’ success in the RE3 (Rethinking Resources and Recycling) research grant. This has led over £11m in future funding including the Henry Royce Institute’s Sustainable Materials Innovation Hub, led by Prof Shaver which will support ‘One bin’ with state-of-the-art facilities for polymer materials analysis.
A collaborative effort
The ‘One bin to rule them all project’ is a consortium led by The University of Manchester alongside 17 companies and local and national authorities; Axion, Biffa, bp, Britvic, BASF, Co-op, Defra, Dsposal, Ecosurety, Faerch, iPac, GMCA, Polytag, Sharpak, SUEZ Recycling and recovery UK limited and Unilever.
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