The Sustainable Materials Innovation Hub (SMI Hub) is using its industrial size composting machine as part of an initiative to assess the claims of packaging labelled as compostable or biodegradable.
The project remains in its early stages, with Experimental Officer Dr Nicola Jones currently focusing on developing optimal conditions under which this testing could one day take place.
Currently, SMI Hub researchers are using spent grain from Cloudwater Brewery in Manchester as the machine’s sole input, with ambitions to increase the variety of waste processed in the future. For now, however, keeping the input and conditions consistent allows researchers to create a controlled environment in which the composting process can be supervised and measured.
This will mean that when they are ready to analyse the breakdown of compostable plastics, the only factor influencing the composting process will be the material from which the packaging is made. By ensuring this, an accurate analysis of a product or packaging’s suitability for organic breakdown can be provided, allowing businesses to make more informed choices about sustainability.
Over the development of the project, a large amount of compost has been produced. This has been offered to the Environmental Services Unit at the University of Manchester for use on the grounds.
The compost, which is produced on an industrial scale on site is collected in reusable bags and transported directly to where it is needed, drastically cutting down on the amount of plastic waste compared to using pre-packaged compost.
Because the waste from which the product is sourced locally, and both its synthesis and use takes place on campus, the product never travels further than a few miles. This has dramatically decreased the carbon footprint of sourcing this product, and has facilitated a positive relationship between academics at the forefront of sustainability research and the invaluable work of those making the university a greener place.
Of the initiative, Landscape Foreman Lewis Brown says:
‘The environmental services team holds sustainability and greener practices as central to what we do. By working alongside academics at the SMI hub we have eliminated a lot of unnecessary plastic waste and reduced the carbon footprint of the compost we use. Small changes can have a big impact and we hope that moving forward we can continue to put these positive changes in to practice.’
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