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Queen’s awarded £1 million to tackle plastic waste problems

Plastic Waste

Over 7.5 billion tonnes of plastic has never been recycled, which, if measured in plastic bottles, would be enough to cover the whole of Northern Ireland to a depth of 40 meters.  

The project, Advancing Creative Circular Economies for Plastics via Technological-Social Transitions (ACCEPT Transitions), will address this problem. It is being led by Professor David Rooney, Director of the Research Centre in Sustainable Energy at Queen’s. Professor Rooney has an 11 strong team of academics from right across the University, with expertise in areas including politics, engineering, psychology and architecture.

The aim of the project is to tackle plastic waste problems by creating a sustainable plastics circular economy in the UK. This would be an economy that keeps resources, including “waste”, in use for as long as possible. Work is due to begin in early 2019.

The project will do this by taking on three elements. Firstly, understanding consumer behaviour and attitudes towards plastic use and plastic waste; secondly, assessing the current industry supply chain so that hotspots can be identified and managed; and thirdly, working with industry to design and prototype building products that use significant quantities of recycled plastic waste.

Professor David Rooney, from the School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Queen’s is project lead. He said: “The world-leading, state of the art facilities at Queen’s make the University the ideal place to carry out this project. These facilities include the Polymer Processing Research Centre (PPRC), a market driven research centre which has been collaborating with industry since 1996.

“The outcome of the research carried out here at Queen’s is to create a sustainable and resilient plastics circular economy that will change how we deal with plastic waste, with the ultimate goal of creating a sustainable environment for future generations.”

Queen’s is one of only eight universities that has been awarded a share of the £8 million grant by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to work on projects that will re-think plastics production and use. 

The announcement was made by the Science Minister, Chris Skidmore on the same day that the government unveiled its Resources and Waste Strategy. The Strategy puts the legal onus on producers of damaging waste, introduces a consistent set of recyclable materials collected from all households and businesses, and introduces a deposit return scheme, subject to consultation, to increase the recycling of single-use drinks containers.