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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/Y004027/1
Title: Developing a Circular Economy for Medical Testing Plastics
Principal Investigator: Dove, Professor AP
Other Investigators:
Jenkins, Dr MJ Ghag, Dr AK Cavoski, Professor A
Thomson, Professor I Krause, Professor S Nefti-Meziani, Prof.OBE S
Geoghegan, Professor J Elsdon-Baker, Professor F
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Adreco Plastics AquaPak Polymers Ltd Birmingham Women’s & Children’s NHS FT
Global Access Diagnostics (UK) International Scientific Supplies Ltd University Hospitals Birmingham NHS FT
Department: School of Chemistry
Organisation: University of Birmingham
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 January 2024 Ends: 31 December 2026 Value (£): 1,460,497
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Biomaterials Design & Testing Technology
Manufact. Business Strategy Materials Characterisation
Materials Processing Sustainability Management
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Manufacturing Healthcare
Related Grants:
Panel History:  
Summary on Grant Application Form
Amid an ever-increasing government and consumer interest in reducing plastic waste, the estimated global use of 15 million tonnes of plastic in the healthcare sector presents some unique challenges. While in the UK, the NHS already has plans to reduce unnecessary plastic waste as part of 'Delivering a Net Zero NHS', new practices and technologies will be required to achieve that target. Among the plastics used in the healthcare sector, the waste associated with plastic used in medical testing within both clinical settings and beyond, represents a large volume of plastic that presents unique opportunities for circularisation. This waste is currently mostly disposed of by incineration or disposal into landfill or, worse, directly in the environment, thus leading to environmental pollution. Circularisation of these plastics would result in significant reduction in plastic wastes, as well as providing large cost savings to organisations, such as the NHS.

Medical testing plastics can be typically characterised into two very different ways. Those used in the clinic/laboratory, and the point of care (POC) rapid diagnostic kits used in personal and home tests. These different usage environments present very different challenges, that this proposal will address. Despite the reduction of personal/home medical testing as the COVID-19 pandemic abates, POC testing exceeds 400 million tests worldwide each year on account of their widespread use for diagnosis of diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria and AIDS, as well as for home pregnancy tests and diabetic blood tests. Moreover, the use of POC tests is predicted to grow as we expand the range of low-cost testing for other diseases (especially in low to middle income countries), face new epidemics and pandemics (i.e. bird flu or monkey pox) and change the delivery of medical services towards virtual interactions between patients and healthcare practitioners, accompanied by increasing normalisation of home testing for illness. Similarly, the plastic waste generated in clinical settings, such as in the NHS, presents a growing concern, with new technologies and treatments highly sought after. In NHS England alone, diagnostic testing has reached record levels in 2022, again, strongly evidencing the need for treatment of these plastics. Given the lab-based setting though, these plastics may facilitate a different, perhaps simpler, route to circularity compared to personal diagnostic testing kits which are used by the public away from the clinical settings.

To this end, this proposal is focussed on addressing the challenge of creating a circular economy for medical testing waste, both in clinical settings (i.e. hospitals, labs, etc) and away from the clinic, in homes and elsewhere. The research will not only create new solutions that are based on pioneering, novel fundamental science and engineering but it will also take a whole systems approach that incorporates an exploration of the economic, social and environmental challenges that it will be essential to address in order to create a sustainable circular economy for medical testing plastics.

Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Organisation Website: http://www.bham.ac.uk