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Uncovering the challenges and trade-offs of closing the plastic packaging loop

In the UK, the plastics industry places approximately 5 million tonnes of plastics onto the UK market each year, of which approximately 2.2 million tonnes is packaging. Most of the plastic packaging waste produced in the UK is incinerated or landfilled. These waste management methods (incineration, landfill) are not considered to be sustainable, and the UK’s recycling industry is now under pressure to procure innovative processes to recycle plastic packaging waste, with a view to improve the circular economy.

In 2018 the UK Plastics Pact, a voluntary agreement to tackle the issue of plastic waste through collaboration across the entire supply chain, has set a number of ambitious targets. It has set a number of targets to be reached by 2025, including increasing the recycling and composting of plastic packaging to 70% by 2025, and increasing the average recycled content in all plastic packaging to 30% by 2025. While these targets present an opportunity for the UK to improve recycling efficiency, a major challenge associated with recycling is understanding the fate of chemicals embedded in them and their impact on the environment and human health.

This project will focus on understanding how these interventions, while promoting circularity, might create hidden impacts. Focusing on plastic packaging used in food applications, the project will build on current research to explore the occurrence and lifecycle fate of intentionally and non-intentionally added substances on the food plastic packaging, uncovering the trade-offs associated with closing the plastic packaging loop. It will interrogate all processes – from manufacturing to end-of-life management – involved in food plastic packaging lifecycle, and using a ‘magnifying glass’ will explore the potential sources and fate of additives along the food plastic packaging value chain. A core objective is to also investigate the interactions and impact of the plastic-food-human nexus.


WRAP (2018a) PlasticFlow 2025: Plastic Packaging Flow Data Report, Banbury, available: [accessed 20/12/2018].

Defra (2018) Our Waste, Our Resources: A Strategy for England, London: Defra, Resources & Waste Strategy Team, available: [accessed 22 February 2019].

WRAP (2018b) The UK Plastics Pact, available: [accessed 22 February 2019].

Hahladakis, J. N., C. A. Velis, R. Weber, E. Iacovidou and P. Purnell (2018). An overview of chemical additives present in plastics: Migration, release, fate and environmental impact during their use, disposal and recycling. Journal of Hazardous Materials 344: 179-199.

How to apply

If you are interested in applying for the above PhD topic please follow the steps below:

  1. Contact the supervisor by email or phone to discuss your interest and find out if you woold be suitable. Supervisor details can be found on this topic page. The supervisor will guide you in developing the topic-specific research proposal, which will form part of your application.
  2. Click on the 'Apply here' button on this page and you will be taken to the relevant PhD course page, where you can apply using an online application.
  3. Complete the online application indicating your selected supervisor and include the research proposal for the topic you have selected.

Good luck!

This is a self funded topic

Brunel offers a number of funding options to research students that help cover the cost of their tuition fees, contribute to living expenses or both. See more information here: The UK Government is also offering Doctoral Student Loans for eligible students, and there is some funding available through the Research Councils. Many of our international students benefit from funding provided by their governments or employers. Brunel alumni enjoy tuition fee discounts of 15%.