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How Loughborough research is helping to protect the planet

1 June 2023

4 mins

World Environment Day (5 June) is the United Nations’ Day for encouraging worldwide awareness and action to protect our environment. This year, the focus is on finding solutions to the growing problem of plastic pollution.

A staggering 400 million tonnes of plastic is produced every year – half of which is designed to be used only once. Worryingly, less than 10 percent of all plastic is recycled, with an estimated 19-23 million tonnes ending up in our lakes, rivers and seas each year. 

To mark World Environment Day, we take a look at some of the ground-breaking research from across Loughborough University that’s playing a vital role addressing this global issue. 

Transforming single-use food packaging

Dr Garrath Wilson and his team from the School of Design and Creative Arts are at the forefront of research that could fundamentally change how we package and recycle items for the benefit of the environment. 

The Perpetual Plastic for Food-to-Go project aims to address the problem of single-use disposable packaging commonly used for grab-and-go foods such as sandwiches and salads. 

Working with experts in sustainable design, manufacturing, and chemistry, along with industry partners involved in every step of the takeaway food supply chain, the team hope to create a new system where food packaging is used more efficiently and can be reused multiple times. 

Closing the loop on plastics

Over a decade of chemistry research underpins the innovative process used by Plastic Energy to convert plastic food wrappers into a feedstock to produce new plastics.

A global leader in chemical recycling technology, Plastic Energy is transforming the global landscape of plastic waste by converting previously unrecyclable plastic into a recycled oil (called TACOIL™) that replaces fossil oils in the production of new plastics.

The company has partnered with academics including Professor Steve Christie to accelerate the innovative process to help prevent plastic waste and transform it into a valuable resource. 

Protecting our oceans

School of Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering researcher Melissa Schiele is heading a partnership looking at using drones to better understand the levels and rates of plastic pollution in the Maldives.

Melissa, whose research is focused on developing drone technology to protect and monitor marine life, is helping to train local teams to operate new long-endurance, water-landing fixed-wing drones provided by the non-profit organisation Oceans Unmanned.

This data will be used to build a picture of plastic pollution in the Maldives, which is home to the world’s seventh-largest coral reef system and more than 1,100 species of fish and 180 species of coral.  

Exposing the problem of plastic pollution 

A recent study led by School of Social Sciences and Humanities researcher Dr Tom Stanton has uncovered the types of litter found in hedgerows and waterways across the UK. 

The research, conducted in collaboration with the environmental non-profit organization Planet Patrol, revealed that plastic makes up most of the litter in the UK, with drinks packaging being the most commonly discarded items.

Tom hopes the study will raise awareness of “the extent and diversity of litter across the UK, and in particular the profile of litter that is often marketed as a greener alternative to plastic but is still a problem in the environment.”

More information

Explore more of Loughborough’s pioneering research and discover how our work is addressing major global challenges

This World Environment Day, 5th June, staff and students can get involved in a litter pick around campus. The session starts at 12pm outside the Edward Hebert Building. Please email if you would like to volunteer to help at the session.

A Sustainability Learning and Development Display will be in both Pilkington Library and Loughborough London Library from 9am-5pm on the 5th June. There will be books, fact sheets, and resources available, making it the perfect way to spend a productive revision break.

The Loughborough Sustainability team will be hosting a competition on their Instagram account on the 5th June. All you have to do to enter is submit an ‘Ecofession’ in the question box on their story. You’ll then be entered into a prize draw to win either a Sustainability Hamper, a tree planted in your name by the National Forest, or a £20 Public and Plant voucher.

The aim of submitting an ‘Ecofession’ (a sustainability slip up) is to get you to think about those things you could improve on, as well as creating an accepting culture, where we acknowledge that it’s okay to not be perfect.

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