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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/S025456/1
Title: Holistic integration of technology, design and policy for a greener plastic future
Principal Investigator: Hallett, Professor JP
Other Investigators:
Georgiou, Professor TK Balint, Dr DS Pimenta, Dr S
Blackman, Professor BRK Britovsek, Professor GJP Taylor, Professor AC
Brandt-Talbot, Dr A Romain, Dr C Porter, Professor AE
Castillo Castillo, Dr A Aurisicchio, Dr M Childs, Professor P
Charalambides, Professor M Bismarck, Professor A Baxter, Dr W
Lee, Professor K
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Dr APS Brogan
Project Partners:
J Sainsbury Plc Johnson Matthey Nestle UK Ltd
Department: Chemical Engineering
Organisation: Imperial College London
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 January 2019 Ends: 31 December 2020 Value (£): 1,027,952
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Manufact. Enterprise Ops& Mgmt Materials Processing
Psychology Waste Management
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Food and Drink
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
29 Oct 2018 UKRI Creative Circular Plastic Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Addressing plastic waste is rapidly evolving into one of the key environmental challenges facing humankind. It is a global problem, notably leading to an excess of plastic pollution in the ocean and the wider environment. Considerable effort is needed along the entire life cycle of plastics - from sourcing of raw materials to manufacturing, to use and recycling - to create solutions for waste from numerous plastic product groups in modern society from aerospace components to children's toys. Recent advances in marine biology, oceanography and marine eco-toxicology have helped provide urgency to the issue, as we begin to realize the wider implications of excess plastic waste in the environment.

There is a need for solutions to these problems across the entire space of plastic and how it interacts with consumers and manufacturers. We propose to tackle the challenges associated with plastic waste along two general thrusts: (1) resource preservation; and (2) waste prevention.

Resource preservation: minimising virgin material extraction. Within this thread we will focus on the design, manufacturing and recycling challenges associated with plastics. These will include developing new technologies that utilise cleaner and more recyclable plastic alternatives, new recycling and recovery processes, better design of end products (to promote re-use or recycling or improve performance and lifetime) and the development of guidelines to design for biodegradability. Taken together, this will create a new plastic economy, where plastic materials are made from renewable feedstocks (rather than petroleum), are easier to recover from waste after use, can be easily recycled, and are designed to biodegrade once they reach the environment. We will couple this with new product designs aimed to encourage consumers to recycle these materials rather than target them for disposal, by designing the look and feel of the products to encourage treating reuse and recycling as a "badge of honour" rather than a burden.

Waste prevention: making fewer resources flow continuously. Within this thread we will focus on distribution, use and end-of-life challenges associated with plastics. These will include studying how to bring about more acceptance of recycled materials, promotion of the circular economy (e.g. reuse, refill, and the sharing economy) within the general public. This will be a consumer-focussed and policy-oriented approach to rethinking how we interact with plastics as a society. Policy and behaviour changes will be linked to the design of the new materials to ensure a whole product that is both technically robust, harmless, and easy to re-use. As an example, we will determine how best to drive a shift towards plastics-free distribution and consumption of goods, re-use and repurposing of plastics, and how we can encourage plastic recycling rather than disposal. This will require a high-level view of how plastics move within the UK economy, an understanding of consumer-plastic interactions and what leads to plastic waste ending up in the environment rather than recycling bins. This will enable us to develop new strategies to change purchase, use, disposal and environmental clean-up behaviours to improve plastic lifetime and inform legislation and policy changes to incentivise behaviour change by consumers.

We bring together deep understanding of the complexity of the value chain and the dependencies between material performance, chemical composition and environmental impacts. We appreciate the need for societal change, in policy, industry and society, to deploy the right interventions for the short and long term. As this grant would build on robust existing activity at Imperial, our strategy is to propose several small feasibility studies aimed at novel solutions for tackling the larger problem areas and integrating technology development with consumer and policy change, eliminating the current meme of single-use plastic packaging.
Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Organisation Website: http://www.imperial.ac.uk