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An image of a discarded plastic bottle on a beach.

A global crisis

Over 7.5 billion tonnes of plastic has never been recycled.

If measured in plastic bottles, this much plastic would be enough to cover the whole of Northern Ireland to a depth of 40 meters. The damage this waste is causing to our global environment is well recognised and solutions must be found.

Project Development

Recent funding from UK Research and Innovation which was awarded to Queen’s University Belfast aims to tackle this problem by developing approaches which assist in the creation of a Creative Circular Economy solution for Plastics. The project is led by Professor David Rooney in conjunction with an 11 strong team of academics with expertise in politics, engineering, psychology and architecture.

The premise behind this collaborative project based across multiple disciplines in QUB is that by integrating innovation and creative thinking across technological, policy, consumer behaviour and supply chain management domains on a focused region of the UK (NI) we can develop ‘socio- technological transitions’ that will facilitate a just transition to a circular economy for existing and future plastics: transitions that will conserve and create sustainable energy and materials, develop new products and green jobs, and support economic growth in NI and the wider UK.

Project Approach

The "Circular Economy Approach"

Circular Economy approaches take a broader viewpoint of the “reduce reuse and recycle strategy” and extend it to looking a wide range of opportunities which maximise the long-term value of materials we use each day.

The objectives of the Project include:

  • Identifying the factors that facilitate or impede recycling behavior
  • Exploring perceptions of plastic use and social/technical innovations to reduce plastic use
  • Eliciting views and policy interventions for a ‘just transition’ of the plastics system
  • Identification of supply chain hotspots to maximise added value and decarbonisation
  • Overcoming barriers to the remanufacture and incorporation of plastics
  • Demonstrating creative approaches to design of products and structures
  • Providing assurances on quality and emissions to support growth in the pyrolysis sector.

 

Using Northern Ireland as an exemplar region, the project specifically targets three areas which define consumer behaviour and attitudes towards plastics, quantify how much waste we make, where it goes and its quality, and finally demonstrate how to add-value to these perceived wastes.