UCL News


UCL joins the fight against plastic waste

18 December 2018

Academics at UCL are to develop a new recycling technology for plastics using bacteria to break them down into reusable material.

Plastic bottles

Designing-out Plastic Waste is one of eight new research projects exploring ways to re-think plastics production and waste, funded by the Plastics Research Innovation Fund (PRIF).

A Plastics Waste Innovation Hub will also be created at UCL, bringing together researchers and businesses to consider new and innovative methods to recycle plastics.

Project lead Professor Mark Miodownik (UCL Mechanical Engineering) said: “I am proud to be part of a UCL team tackling the environmental catastrophe of plastic waste. There is no easy solution to this global problem so we are bringing together researchers from across the whole of UCL to work as a multi-disciplinary team.

“The initial group, led by UCL’s Institute of Making, includes a wide range of experts from biochemical engineers and chemists to psychologists, economists and sustainability researchers. We are also setting up the UCL Plastic Waste Innovation Hub to bring together those who want to contribute, including businesses and the public.”

The eight projects were successful in the Creative Circular Economy Approaches to Eliminate Plastics Waste competition, and are among the first to be funded through PRIF; they were announced today by Science Minister Chris Skidmore.

Researchers will investigate alternatives to fossil-based materials for plastics, as well as looking into the complex factors involved in the lifecycle of plastic materials, from consumers’ and business’ needs and behaviour to how to use technology to reclaim or break down plastics.

Mr Skidmore said: “We have all seen the devastating effects that plastics waste has on our environment, threatening the biodiversity of our oceans and introducing micro-plastics into the food chain.

“We are committed to tackling this problem, from developing a plastic-eating bacteria to finding new ways to recycle.  These projects have the potential to lead us to a cleaner, greener economy but also ensure the UK is at the forefront of the latest innovations and products that will be in high demand across the world through our modern Industrial Strategy.”

The fund is managed by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), delivered via the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Innovate UK, with strategic oversight from Professor Duncan Wingham, Executive Chair of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Professor Duncan Wingham, UK Research and Innovation’s Lead for the Plastics Research Innovation Fund and Executive Chair of the Natural Environment Research Council, said: “These eight multidisciplinary research projects will lead the way in finding new solutions to our current use of plastics, through recycling methods and developing alternative materials.

“UKRI is drawing UK researchers together with companies to address the challenge of reducing plastic waste entering the environment and creating an economy that is free from plastic waste.”






Media contact

Kate Corry

Tel: +44 (0)20 3108 6995

Email: k.corry [at] ucl.ac.uk