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Think tank urges action on novel materials

3-D printers

The Green Alliance has warned that novel materials are at risk of ending up in landfill if appropriate recovery solutions are not developed in tandem.

In a report, Getting it right from the start, the think tank considers the capacity for reuse and recycling of carbon fibre composites used in cars, bioplastics for packaging and additive manufacturing technologies such as 3D printing.

It says new materials such as these could disrupt existing recycling systems, and calls for the Government’s industrial strategy to take them into account.

The strategy should, it says:

  • support and inform designers and manufacturers to think through the whole life cycle of their materials to identify barriers to recovering value from them
  • support collaboration between sectors and along supply chains to develop new applications for recovered materials
  • fund research into more recyclable materials and new recovery technologies

More waste materials and by-products in the manufacture of bioplastics would help the agricultural, food and drink sectors to lower their waste costs, the report says.

Increasing the amount of recycled carbon fibres would also enable more manufacturers to use the material, which costs 20-40% less than new fibres.

Senior policy adviser Jonny Hazell said: “Our work shows both the threat and opportunity of novel materials, with action needed now to avoid disrupting established resource management systems and increasing the waste of materials.

“Equally, addressing this problem will improve productivity and have employment benefits, through developing high-value materials and keeping them in use for longer.”

The report was written on behalf of Innovate UK, the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (Epsrc).

Katie Daniel, Epserc’s manufacturing the future theme lead, said: “Epsrc recognises the importance of research into novel materials to support the future competitiveness and creativity of the UK economy.

“This report is a timely reminder of the need to incorporate circular economy thinking into materials development so as to make the best use of our resources.”

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