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Chemical engineering challenges plastic pollution

The growing problem of plastic pollution is an issue being tackled by chemical engineers at The University of Queensland in conjunction with government and industry.

It is estimated 348 million metric tons of plastic was produced in 2017, bringing the total amount of plastic produced since 1950 to 8.3 billion metric tons. 

UQ Associate Professor Dr Bronwyn Laycock said it was a difficult challenge.   

“The problem we have with current plastics is that they have been engineered for over half a century to be long lasting and durable,” Dr Laycock said.

“We’re tackling this waste plastic problem from many different angles because it isn’t a one dimensional problem.

“From looking at cost effective ways to create truly biodegradable plastics, to talking with hospitals and industry about strategies to recycle, chemically process or otherwise manage their waste, we’re building a multifaceted approach.”

Dr Laycock said it’s important to establish strong collaborations across industry, universities and government to develop multidisciplinary strategies and create a more sustainable future. 

“If we don’t find affective systems for managing plastic production we’re going to have increasing masses of plastic ending up in the ocean and causing significant harm to the environment.”

UQ researchers will meet with industry representatives and Queensland Government stakeholders today, as part of a series of Challenging Plastics forums.

Minister for Environment Leeanne Enoch said today’s forum creates a platform for experts to collectively identify the challenges associated with the recovery and reuse of particular plastics.

“The Queensland Government is preparing a Plastic Pollution Reduction Plan in response to the growing concern across the community about the increasing amount of plastic in and entering the environment,” Ms Enoch said.

“Queensland also now has a ban on single-use plastic bags, and a Container Refund Scheme, which has seen more than 220 million containers recycled.

“Today’s event helps start a conversation about the issue and links key players from manufacturers, end users, recyclers and government so everyone can be a part of the solution.

“This will be invaluable in helping the Queensland Government to identify and prioritise actions to tackle plastic pollution.”


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