Turning tide on plastic packaging pollution

Five PhD students, each funded for four years, will soon start exploring the complex problem of marine pollution from plastic packaging. This innovative research programme at the University of Portsmouth is being supported by UK based material technologies company Aquapak. It aims to deliver actions that can be taken to solve a growing problem.

It is estimated that five million tonnes of plastic is used in the UK each year, nearly half of which is packaging that ends up in the environment. Plastic waste is accumulating and breaking down in our oceans at an alarming rate, with potentially catastrophic results for both marine and human health.

Professor Steve Fletcher, Director of Revolution Plastics and the Global Plastics Policy Centre, at the University of Portsmouth said: “Relatively little is known about how and what speed plastic packaging degenerates in the environment and how industry practice could help to end the damaging impact of plastics. In order to develop meaningful solutions, it is vital to better understand the products causing the pollution, how they pollute and how their damage can be reduced. Research is key to shaping that understanding and the transformational change that will follow. Having a dedicated team of scientists is really going to help accelerate our search for solutions.”

Research is key to shaping that understanding and the transformational change that will follow. Having a dedicated team of scientists is really going to help accelerate our search for solutions.

Dr John Williams, Chief Technology Officer, Aquapak said: “Aquapak is delighted to be partnering with the University of Portsmouth in such an important area studying marine pollution associated with plastic packaging. In developing our Hydropol materials platform we have always been driven by providing a complete solution for the packaging developers and manufacturers from multifunctionality to safe disposal at end of use.”

“However, we have always been mindful that inevitably plastic materials escape into the environment and often end up in the oceans, and although this has come to the forefront in recent times, actually there is very little understanding of exactly how these materials behave in the variety of marine environments. Aquapak’s sponsorship of this ground-breaking interdisciplinary approach with the global experts at the University of Portsmouth will significantly increase the knowledge in this area, and aid the drive towards better design, better materials and a cleaner environment.”

The PhD group, which will deliver a total of 20 years worth of research, will build on the University of Portsmouth’s extensive expertise and global reputation in plastics. The students will form an interdisciplinary cluster, supervised by senior scientists at the top of their fields, working across a range of faculties and disciplines. Through collaboration, and by avoiding ‘silos’, the team of academics will be able to share knowledge and research to develop solutions for meeting the challenge of plastic packaging.

Aquapak’s sponsorship of this ground-breaking interdisciplinary approach with the global experts at the University of Portsmouth will significantly increase the knowledge in this area, and aid the drive towards better design, better materials and a cleaner environment.

The PHD’s will work on the following projects:

  1. Engineering enzymes and processes for recycling single-use plastics – Led by Professor Andy Pickford, Centre for Enzyme Engineering. There will be two PhD’s attached to this project.
  2. Development of sustainable biodegradable packaging for food or other types of packaging applications – led by Professor Hom Dhakal, School of mechanical and design engineering, and Professor Alex Ford, Institute of Marine Sciences.
  3. Assessing the formation of microplastic pollution by pure and composite plastic packaging products – led by Dr Fay Couceiro, School of civil engineering and surveying
  4. The role of ‘design for circularity’ in the transition to a circular plastics economy – led by Professor Steve Fletcher, Global Plastics Policy Centre

Professor Fletcher says: “This opportunity is likely to create critical impact that spans the whole supply chain of plastic. The interdisciplinary nature of the PhD cluster means that new knowledge is not produced in isolation, but in a way that ensures all areas inform each other.”

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