Single-use plastic will get a sustainable lease of life as part of a new project led by Manchester Metropolitan University to transform waste into valuable new products and create drive for recycled plastic materials. Using two different innovative technologies – intrusion moulding and additive manufacturing – single-use plastic waste will be turned back into raw plastic material, known as feedstock, to then become everything from tables, chairs and bespoke 3D printed products. For more information see the IDTechEx report on 3D Printing Materials 2019-2029: Technology and Market Analysis. Manchester Metropolitan will lead the €9.6 million project utilising its expertise in Industry 4.0, next- generation materials, 3D printing and insight in building a sustainable economy. Supported by the Interreg North West Europe Programme as part of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the project, named TRANSFORM-CE, not only aims to divert thousands of tonnes of waste from landfill across North West Europe but also create new economic demand for the uptake of recycled plastic materials by businesses, both locally and further afield. Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham supports the new initiative as Manchester looks to become carbon neutral by 2038. He said: “The reduction of single-use plastic is a key focus area for Greater Manchester, and we are committed to helping support behaviour change and to reduce our consumption and production of single-use plastics. The TRANSFORM-CE project is a fantastic example of where industry experts, businesses and research bodies can identify real economic opportunities for the revaluing of Greater Manchester’s single-use household plastic, showing that it is possible to create real value from waste through a disruptive and innovative approach.”
The project will also see the construction of two, purpose-built plastic recycling plants, one in Manchester and one in the Netherlands. Manchester Metropolitan is already home to PrintCity, a 3D additive manufacturing centre, which will work with local businesses to incorporate these new recycled materials into their product design process. Single-use plastics cause enormous amounts of pollution, in both the oceans and on land. Approximately 8 million pieces of plastic pollution make their way into our seas every day and 79% of waste plastic ends up in landfills or as litter. Currently, plastic products are manufactured from scratch, using virgin material and natural resources, they are used once and are then at best recycled into a different, poorer quality products, before ultimately becoming waste. This practice follows a linear rather than a circular recycling model, which would instead see products retain their value and be looped into a cycle of reuse – which TRANSFORM-CE aims to achieve. Amanda Reid, Programme Lead for the University’s Waste to Resource Innovation Network and the project manager, said: “By revaluing our existing single-use plastic feedstock and changing consumption and production patterns from a linear to a circular economy, we should be able to make a real difference to the current single-use plastics concern. Whilst remaining a throwaway society we simply do not have the ability to continue developing, but by making this change to a circular economy and by decoupling economic growth from resource consumption we can start to make a change.”
To do this, single-use plastic waste, meant for landfill, will be transformed into new products with a higher value. Hard plastic items, such as drink bottles, will be innovated into 3D printing filaments and eventually printed products. In what will be a massive upcycle of waste plastic, once the new filament has been created, this will then be used in the 3D additive manufacturing process to create new products, designed specifically with business in mind. Lower value plastic including thin films and foils, which cannot currently be recycled easily, will be used to make products such as tables, chairs and even lampposts, using intrusion moulding. TRANSFORM-CE aims to support businesses in adopting a circular economy by offering them an alternative to virgin plastic feedstock. Instead, businesses will be able to use recycled plastic and create new products. Manchester Metropolitan’s PrintCity will play a pivotal role in the process by helping businesses incorporate recycle materials into their own products through 3D printing technology. Funded by €9.6m from the ERDF, TRANSFORM-CE sees the collaboration of 36 partners from a range of disciplines. Professor Craig Banks, Project Director of TRANSFORM-CE, added: “It is fantastic that we are leading this circular step change, engaging with both EU research institutes, business and government to support the adoption of a circular economy and wider engagement as part of Industry 4.0, and on a local level, the Greater Manchester Industrial Strategy.”
The construction of the two pilot plants will take place over the course of the next year. Initial stages of testing will begin on the different feedstock in the coming months. Eventually, partners hope to create a Plastics Road Map for the future, which will provide a clear steer for businesses and government policy and define a new economic value for municipal single-use plastic.