The key driver for this programme is to generate results to help reduce our ever mounting plastic waste. We will deliver impact by developing fundamental multidisciplinary research that will not only lead to new biodegradable polymeric materials, but will also investigate the life cycle/flow of the new materials and evaluate public perception.
Initially this will be achieved by using the University of Hull as a test bed through the duration of the award, and, following data analysis, this can in future be expanded to wider region, taking into account the global supply chain and beyond.
The project will benefit Hull, the UK, and the international scientific community in general through dissemination of the results. Impact of research results will be maximized via inclusion in leading international journals and presentations at conferences. This will be supplemented by editorials, focus articles and, if appropriate, through the general media. The activities will stimulate new multidisciplinary projects of direct relevance to the circular plastics economy across a number of research communities. It is envisaged that the results will enable research teams to creatively build on this work, and plan further strategies to enable a more informed and publicly accepted move towards a circular plastics economy.
Stakeholder engagement is a significant part of this programme and is likely to inspire novel opportunities for impact that cannot be predicted in advance, but several likely outcomes can be expected.
By encouraging businesses and end-users to share their experiences of the creation, use and recycling of plastics, including exploring the alternatives to plastics, it is likely that our Logistics Institute expertise will be able to analyse these supply chains and material flows to suggest potential initiatives to save energy material and waste through improved process design.
Through interaction with stakeholders and end-users the behavioural psychologists may also be able to come up with new insights on how people may be persuaded to change their ways.
Stakeholder engagement will increase local awareness and engagement with the research going on throughout the university, potentially shortening the pathways and timescales for translation of novel ideas, materials and processes into application and use.
The creation of novel bio-derived polymers can be scaled up to create new plastics which, once adopted at scale, can significantly contribute to reducing the entry of persistent plastics to the environment. Achieving the adoption of novel plastics, at a cost suitable for introduction on a mass market scale, is no small challenge, but is only possible once the initial material development work has started.
More significant may be the development of a commercially viable reprocessing method for depolymerisation, gasification and regeneration of useful chemicals derived from post use plastic waste, which can be used in the regeneration of new consumer plastics. One key intended outcome of this is to be able to resolve a key problem in consumer recycling, that of having to distinguish and separate different types of plastics, including recyclable, non-recyclable, biodegradable and compostable. The aim within this project is to test and develop a process that can make use of these in mixed form, then the collection and processing of post-consumer waste can be greatly simplified.
Use of the University of Hull as a test site for novel practices in plastics use and reclamation and in alternatives to plastic, will create a knowledge base and practical experience for larger regional and national scale trials of successful initiatives.
All of these together will have a significant beneficial effect on the local environment, and on other environments which are currently impacted by plastics disposal, many of which are low income countries who import and process a large proportion of the plastic waste currently generated in Europe and America.