A recent Royal Society of Chemistry article has highlighted results from their Progressive Plastics citizen survey, which indicate that nearly half of people in the UK lack confidence in which single-use plastics can and can’t be recycled. This has informed calls for an urgent focus on scientific research, sustainable alternatives and improved infrastructure for processing waste plastic.
School of Chemistry UKRI Future Leaders Fellow Dr Jenni Garden featured in an interview with the RSC as part of the article, explaining her research into the potential of poly(lactic acid) products as sustainable alternatives to today’s plastics. In the interview, Dr Garden describes the need for infrastructural changes to accommodate these new types of plastics, and the importance of designing plastics with sustainability as a main focus.
Dr Jenni Garden has worked with the RSC to produce accessible resources which demonstrate the central role of chemistry in building a new future for plastics. In November 2019, she participated in the Chemical Sciences and Society Summit (CS3) alongside researchers from China, Germany, Japan and the UK. A report resulting from discussions at the CS3 meeting was published in June 2020, calling for research in four key areas of degradation, recycling, measuring impacts of plastics, and designing new plastics.
It has been very exciting to work with the RSC on their Progressive Plastics project. This project has produced a series of accessible resources explaining the chemistry behind plastics and opportunities to improve their sustainability.
These resources include a white paper on Science to Enable Sustainable Plastics and a series of explainers. Improving the sustainability of plastics is a complex challenge that needs collaboration between scientists, engineers, social scientists, policy, regulation, business and economics, and chemistry has a key role to play. I hope that these resources will help to encourage conversations and stimulate new ideas in this area as we work towards a more sustainable future.