CSIRO tackles plastic pollution with $50 million fund


Monday, 21 March, 2022

CSIRO tackles plastic pollution with $50 million fund

The CSIRO has pledged to tackle the problem of plastic pollution and reduce plastic waste by 80% in this decade. $50 million is to be invested in the organisation’s Ending Plastic Waste Mission, with the funding coming from government, university, industry, the CSIRO and other sources. This mission will involve research and development to change how Australia makes, uses, recycles and disposes of plastics.

Only 12% of the one million tonnes of single-use plastics that Australians use each year ends up being recycled and around three-quarters of the plastic found on the country’s famous coastlines is single-use plastics. Global plastic is predicted to double by 2040, which means that a countrywide approach is required to tackle the waste issue.

“The Ending Plastic Waste Mission will bring together the whole innovation system, from government, industry and academia, to turn science into solutions that will benefit the environment and create economic opportunities for Australia,” said CSIRO’s Chief Executive, Dr Larry Marshall.

“By working together, by aligning our efforts and by pushing each other further for a common cause, we can tackle seemingly impossible challenges — like protecting our environment while making sustainability profitable for business. And we can achieve it faster.”

The mission aims to assist in developing the circular economy of plastics, which is foreseen to provide US$67 billion in value globally by 2025.

“By turning plastic waste into a renewable resource, the Mission will deliver collaborative scientific and manufacturing capabilities to drive new technologies across the entire plastics supply chain and grow Australia’s circular economy.”

Researchers are investigating what happens when insects, like meal worm, digest plastic. This could transform organic food waste into valuable protein and leave cleaner plastic waste for recycling.

Some specific aims for research in the mission include the development of new materials, plastics, processes and technologies for making, using and recycling plastics and the support of the circular plastics economy. The mission also aims to revolutionise packaging and waste systems to generate more effective ways of recycling; assist with the development and implementations of new standards for recycling; enable the use of analytics and machine learning to inform decision-making; and create systemic change.

Additionally, a new bioplastics innovation hub with Murdoch University will see the development of compostable bioplastics that break down by themselves, without the UV treatment that other compostable plastics would require, while Ecopha Biotech will create water bottles from food waste.

Other projects are being conducted in the mission such as cooperation with neighbouring countries in the Indo–Pacific region and a large-scale survey of plastic waste and where it comes from.

Top image caption: ULUU seaweed-derived polymers provide an alternative to conventional plastics and can be re-used, recycled or composted. © ULUU

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