Contributor series: Student Circular Economy Project

Posted on: 5 December 2023 in Issue 7

Members of the UoL Circular Economy project team during a recent pop-up shop

The UoL Circular Economy Project team are a group of University of Liverpool mechanical and design engineering students working collaboratively to implement a circular economy on campus, starting with the recycling and repurposing of single use plastic bottles. Thanks to the UoL Circular Economy Project team, for telling us all about it.

We are the UoL Circular Economy Capstone team, consisting of a group of fourteen mechanical engineering students and four industrial design students, aided by University supervisors and Plastic Tactics, with the aim of creating a circular economy on campus, driven by the reverse engineering and up-cycling of campus-waste water bottles.

Many people don’t fully understand what a Circular Economy is yet, and it describes “a model of production and consumption, which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible. In this way, the life cycle of products is extended." We aim for this excessive existing waste to fuel various meaningful initiatives aimed at increasing the practise of eco-responsibility as well as wider global social contributions; establishing a circular economy within our campus involving the creation of specialized machinery dedicated to the transformation of plastic waste sourced from campus bins into recycled materials suitable for use in 3D printing and various manufacturing processes.

We are working towards accomplishing this goal by evaluating the feasibility, effectiveness and potential for different social and commercial initiatives; further involving the meticulous design and subsequent commercialization of a diverse range of products tailored to meet the preferences and needs of our student body, all crafted from the abundant waste resources available within our university campus. This project has drawn great design and engineering inspiration from companies such as Plastic Tactics (local to Liverpool), Precious Plastics (Netherlands) and various eco-designers such as Ryo Suzuki, for both their social ambitions and engineering methods of production.

The treatment process ensures the plastic is in optimal condition before entering the circular economy factory.

Roles and responsibilities

The treatment team is responsible for the condition of the material entering the circular economy factory. Mechanical Engineering student, Brogan Lewtas said “Through the creation of a washing and separation system, the shredded plastic can be in optimal condition to ensure that high-quality products are produced.”

Shalet Scariah, also a Mechanical Engineering student explained that the aim of the materials team “is to ensure a thorough understanding of the characteristics and properties of the materials we use on this project through various methods, including the tensile testing of heat pressed sheets made from recycled plastic shreds.”

Mechanical Engineering student, Jack Nesbitt added, “The goal of the machines sub-team is to transform the plastics collected into stock materials for use in manufacturing products through the construction of a shredder and an extruder. The shredder will process plastic waste into shreds which can then be used in the extruder or on the heat press.”

The ID team is responsible for the beginning and end of the project. Morwenna Khor, an Industrial Design student said “this part of the project includes plastic collection through bottle recycling bins, and most importantly the reverse vending machine. At the other end of the project, our team is responsible for the design and manufacture of products produced from the recycled plastic material.

Sociology students also work in collaboration with the engineering students. “We take a sociological approach to the project and offer suggestions of ethical considerations that could be made as well as ways in which a Circular Economy could be implemented in different contexts to address societal needs and concerns.” Said Aisha Wilson, a Criminology and Sociology student.

Throughout the project to date, many milestones have been completed. We have successfully implemented new bottle recycling points within the engineering building, alongside hosting our first pop-up shop selling 3D printed products manufactured from recycled plastic filament back to students. We are also nearing the implementation of our reverse vending machine in which you can actively get involved in the circular loop, depositing your waste plastic bottles and crushing them ahead of being shredded and transformed into 3D printer filament.

Get involved

If you want to get involved with our project, you can follow us on Instagram @circulareconomyuol, or join us at our next event, a Christmas pop-up shop on Friday 8th December, 11am to 3pm in the Harrison Hughes Building Foyer, 1st Floor, where we will be selling 3D printed décor made from recycled plastics. Also look out for our bins across the Harrison Hughes Building, and try out our reverse vending machine which will be on campus in the next few weeks.

We will also be taking part in Sustainability Week in February 2024, so watch this space for further details coming soon.