Backed by the UKRI funding, the project aims to make the plastic packaging more sustainable and environmentally friendly

Plastic scrap for recycling

The project aims to make the plastic packaging more sustainable. (Credit: University of Liverpool)

A team led by the researchers from the University of Liverpool has secured £965,000 funding from the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to develop smart sustainable packaging.

The funding will be used by the team comprising the University of Manchester, Unilever and Bright Green Plastics to make the plastic packaging more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

The project aims to provide the necessary technological advancements to increase the incorporation of the post-consumer recycled (PCR) resin, which can be produced by recycling high-density polyethylene (HDPE), in the manufacture of plastic products.

Compared to new, virgin plastic, the PCR resin plastic has reduced environmental footprint.

According to the University of Liverpool, the use of PCR in packaging instead of virgin plastic could reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support a circular economy.

However, packaging with increased PCR content will have reduced performance, according to the University of Liverpool.

As part of the project, the team will use data science and undertake detailed plastics materials analysis to better understand how HDPE changes during the mechanical recycling process to create PCR.

This new knowledge will be used to develop interventions to improve PCR performance.

University of Liverpool department of chemistry senior lecturer Dr Tom McDonald said: “The project aims to better understand the chemistry and properties of post-consumer resin (PCR) through finding out more about how HDPE changes during recycling.

“This knowledge can be used to invent ways of improving the post-consumer recycled plastic so that more can be used to make HDPE bottles. This change will result in less plastic waste, increased sustainability in plastic packaging and less harm to the environment.”

Additionally, the project will evaluate to understand how this disruption within the PCR supply and demand will impact the supply chain.

Unilever research and development packaging vice-president Cameron Jones said: “This grant will help us better understand recycled plastic as a material so we can use it more widely in different types of packaging. Our goal is to ensure the use of recycled plastic increases and becomes an industry norm.”