Policy10 March 2023

Now is the time to grasp opportunities to improve plastic recycling across the North 

Today, Professor Michael Shaver, Director of the Sustainable Materials Innovation Hub and Sustainable Futures, part of the University of Manchester, has published an open letter calling on Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham following visit to grasp opportunities to improve plastic recycling across the North. 

The letter urges the Mayor to build on the city region’s history of transforming its waste management system following the significant upcoming changes to waste policy on the horizon, by creating additional capacity in the region to mechanically recycle plastics. 

Over recent years the recycling rate in Greater Manchester has plateaued to just under 50% overall. The limitation of recycling only bottle-shaped plastics means the combined authority has fallen behind other areas – by comparison over 87% of UK local authorities collect pots, trays and tubs in addition to bottles. 

On a recent visit to the Sustainable Materials Innovation Hub, in the Royce Hub Building at the University of Manchester, the Mayor heard about the various projects that the research group are involved in related to plastics and sustainability, including One Bin to Rule them All, which piqued his interest on the perennial issue. The multi-year One Bin project looks to understand recycling behaviours, and demonstrate a viable system to eliminate plastic release in the environment by identifying and creating value in plastic packaging waste streams, whilst simplifying recycling for consumers. 

Prof. Michael Shaver said: 

“From our insights and experience, we believe there are significant opportunities for Greater Manchester to lead the country in creating local additional capacity to sort and mechanically recycle a wide range of plastic packaging materials in a more integrated manner.” 

“We commonly hear that there are no viable markets for recycled plastics such as pots, trays and tubs or flexibles that are not currently kerbside collected in Greater Manchester, but believe this is no longer the case.” 

“The challenge is capacity, with the lack of local mechanical recycling infrastructure necessitating long transportation distances that increase cost and carbon footprint.” 

He has volunteered to lead a task and finish group within the Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s Sustainable Consumption and Production Challenge Group in this area and hopes to cover both the technical and wider systemic solutions needed. 


Read the letter


Further Information 

Adam Peirce
External Liaison Officer


Editors Notes 

  • The Sustainable Materials Innovation Hub (SMI Hub) was created by the Henry Royce Institute for advanced materials in 2020 with funding from the European Regional Development Fund to support the growing need to combat plastics pollution increasingly associated with major world cities. The SMI Hub’s current focus is supporting businesses in Greater Manchester with their use of plastics but Royce’s vision for the Hub is much greater. It hopes to offer support at a national level and look to create sustainable solutions for many materials, driven by the need for a more circular economy.
  • Sustainable Futures brings together the unique depth and breadth of internationally leading research at The University of Manchester and builds on the University’s track record of successful interdisciplinary working, to produce integrated and truly sustainable solutions to urgent environmental challenges. It will develop complete understandings of the environmental systems on which we depend and human interactions with them. It will spur scientific innovation and facilitate societal change at scale and pace to address urgent environmental crises. Sustainable Futures is unique in connecting core environmental expertise and broader societal agendas to develop systemic, innovative and actionable solutions.
  • Mechanical recycling is the traditional way that waste plastics have been made into new products, and involves a series of steps after collection: sorting into monomaterial streams (i.e. by plastic type), washing away contamination, shredding, and then reprocessing of the shredded plastic into new products using techniques such as extrusion, blow moulding, and injection moulding. 
  • The University of Manchester secured one of ten-university led projects across the UK, granted as part of UK Research & Innovation’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund – Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging. The ‘One Bin to Rule them All’ project aims to improve compliance with recycling by developing ‘One bin’ to hold all plastic-like items and improving recycling infrastructure to create more usable recycled plastics that can be fed back into a circular economy. The project is a consortium led by The University of Manchester alongside 17 companies and local and national authorities; Axion, Biffa, bp, Britvic, BASF, Co-op, Defra, Dsposal, Ecosurety, Faerch, iPac, GMCA, Polytag, Sharpak, SUEZ Recycling and recovery UK limited and Unilever. 

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Adam Peirce

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