University of Liverpool Researchers awarded £965k to develop smart sustainable packaging

Researchers from the University of Liverpool are leading a £965k project that aims to make the plastic packaging used in products such as shampoo bottles more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Funded by UKRI, the project also involves the University of Manchester, Unilever and Bright Green Plastics.

The aim of the project is to provide the necessary technological advancements to take forward the use of post-consumer recycled (PCR) resin, which can be made by recycling High Density Polyethylene (HDPE), one of the most common plastics used in packaging. This will allow PCR to be more widely adopted in the manufacture of plastic products.

HDPE is used in a wide variety of applications, including plastic bottles, milk jugs, shampoo bottles, bleach bottles. This plastic can be collected and mechanically recycled to produce a PCR resin, a plastic that has a lower environmental footprint compared to new, virgin plastic.

Replacing more of the virgin plastic that is used in packaging with PCR, would be a big step forward in reducing the amount of unrecycled plastic in the market, helping to drive a circular economy approach, as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

However, an increase in PCR content in packaging typically reduces packaging performance, which has limited its wider use in packaging by industry.

To get a better insight into this, the project will use data science combined with detailed materials analysis of the plastics to better understand how HDPE changes during the mechanical recycling process to create PCR and use this new knowledge to develop interventions to improve the performance of PCR.

The project will also investigate how this disruption within the supply and demand for PCR will impact the supply chain. This data will then allow interventions to be selected that deliver the greatest economic, social and environmental benefits. Find out more