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PhD Studentships: Evolving a Plastics Circular Economy

University of Hull

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Hull
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students, International Students
Funding amount: Please see details below
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 13th February 2019
Closes: 1st April 2019

To celebrate the University of Hull recent research success in securing a UKRI award for a Creative Circular Economy, the University is pleased to offer a full-time UK/EU/International PhD Scholarship for candidates applying for each of the following projects.

Closing date: - Monday 1st April 2019

Studentships will start on 16th September 2019

Summary of Cluster

Plastic has changed the way we live, but the time has come to address the way in which it is used and disposed of. We urgently need new ways of thinking about the problems of plastic use.

The so-called “Circular Economy” represents an alternative, more sustainable model to the traditional linear economy. A linear model follows the path of make, use and dispose. In a circular economy however, we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extracting the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of their service life.

The University of Hull (UoH) has been awarded an £1.1M institutional award from the UKRI for a Creative Circular Economy Approaches to Eliminating Plastics Waste project entitled ‘Evolving a Circular Plastics Economy’. This project will enable us to drive forward exiting innovative cross-disciplinary research and is intended to very rapidly catalyse new ideas across the research landscape. 

As part of this project, UoH is also funding a Circular Economy PhD cluster, where the successful students will become part of one of the largest interdisciplinary groups holistically researching reducing plastics waste in the UK, with over 24 academics working together in our Plastics Collaboratory.

PhD Project 1. New Biodegradable Polymers via Metal-catalysed Polymerization. (PhD Chemistry)

Scholarship contact:- Professor Carl Redshaw (Chemistry)

As part of the Circular Economy PhD cluster, this mostly lab-based project will involve novel catalytic chemistry to develop biodegradable biopolymers with useful plastic properties. The new metal-based catalysts and the resulting polymeric materials will be fully characterized using a variety of techniques such as multi-nuclear NMR spectroscopy, X-ray diffraction (single crystal & powder), mass spectrometry etc… Experience of inert atmosphere techniques (Schlenk lines & dry boxes) and an interest in catalysis/polymer chemistry is desirable.

This project will require a 1st class Undergraduate Degree in Chemistry or a Masters level qualification in synthetic chemistry, together with relevant research experience. A 2:1 may be considered, if combined with relevant experience.

PhD Project 2. AI for Improving Information Workflows. (PhD Computer Science)

Scholarship contacts:- (1) Chandra Kambhampati (;

(2) Yongqiang Cheng (, (Computer Science)

This project will have an impact on three of the “Evolving a Circular Plastics Economy”, project namely:

  1. To understand current uses of plastic within society and the wider economy and the policy constraints and drivers presently around reuse and recycling
  2. To address the twin logistical issues for supply chains raised by incorporating renewable plastics and recovery of renewable and petrochemical plastic via pyrolysis.
  3. To closely monitor the potential life cycle impacts (social, economic and environmental) of the technological innovations and emerging routes to their implementation within a CE

The project aims at develop a deeper understanding of the key issues in the circular plastic economy, by working closely with the stakeholders and end-users, a systematic systemic process can be implemented to collect data for policy innovations. AI and data mining approaches will be used for the development of efficient information workflows in order to better understand the customers and their behaviour as this holds the key to the success in the modification of the patterns in the use of plastics. Once these behaviour analyses have been obtained, various modifications of the behaviours can be tested on the AI model. These findings will then be discussed with the focus groups such that the detailed processes can be elucidated.

Given the nature of the larger project, and its objectives this PhD project will feed into the evaluation of current and future supply chains which be carried out concurrently or sequentially in order to develop a participatory approach to understanding and optimising plastics in closed loop sustainable supply chains. It is expected that this project will contribute to the identification of the workflows and pathways for implementation of new practices.

This project will require a 1st class Undergraduate Degree in Computer Science (or related Degrees). A Masters level qualification in the Data Science would be beneficial. A 2:1 at an undergraduate level may be considered, if combined with relevant Masters Level Qualification.

PhD Project 3. Universities as Laboratories for Change: Exploring Pathways to a Circular Economy of Plastics. (PhD Human Geography)

Scholarship contact: - Dr Julia Affolderbach, (Geography) (

This PhD project investigates pathways to a circular economy of plastics focusing on universities as institutions as much as places of (knowledge) production, consumption and education. Using social science methods, the project explores opportunities and barriers to tackling our plastics crisis at an organisational and individual scale. Using the University of Hull and possible other university case studies as examples, the project aims to (1) assess the role universities can play as living laboratories, promoters and active agents developing a more sustainable economy and culture and (2) test and assess a set of actions as part of the ‘Evolving a Circular Plastics Economy’ project being rolled out across the universities. As such, one core dimension of the project is identifying challenges and opportunities for a circular economy of plastics through analysis of organisational and individual understandings, values, behaviour and expectations.

Potential candidates should have experience in conducting qualitative research including interviews and/or focus groups. Experience with surveys is an asset. We in particular encourage applications from candidates with an interest in the green economy, circular economy, greening at the local and regional scale.

Applicants for all projects should have a 1st class undergraduate degree and Masters level qualification in Geography, Urban Studies and Planning, Social Sciences Research Methods or related disciplines, together with relevant research experience. A 2:1 may be considered, if combined with relevant experience.

PhD Project 4 Improving User Accessibility for Waste Recycling Behaviour via a Symbol Matching System. (PhD Psychology)

Scholarship contacts:- Dr Felix Why,, (Psychology) – first supervisor

Prof. Chanaka Jayawardhena, (second supervisor), (Marketing, Business School)

Current approach for waste classification and disposal relies on a complex cognitive differentiation of waste type (e.g., paper-based, recyclable plastics, non-recyclable plastics, general wastes) that is challenging to most users, particularly children. The colour-coding of disposal options is also problematic for individuals with colour-blindness. This PhD research is aimed at creating a new system that is more accessible for individuals to dispose waste through the use of icon/symbol matching between the type of waste and the disposal options. The project aims to investigate the efficacy of this new approach in terms of its design and presentation (e.g., shape and visual location of symbols) as well as its impact on user accessibility across different age groups with a particular focus on its efficacy to promote waste recycling behaviours among children.

Applicants for all projects should have a 1st class undergraduate degree in Psychology and a BPS accredited Masters level qualification in Health Psychology, together with relevant research experience. A 2:1 may be considered, if combined with relevant experience.

To apply for these Scholarships please click on the Apply button above.

Full-time UK/EU and International PhD Scholarships will include fees at the ‘home/EU' student rate and maintenance (£15,009 in 2019/20) for three years, depending on satisfactory progress.

PhD students at the University of Hull follow modules for research and transferable skills development and gain a Masters level Certificate, or Diploma, in Research Training, in addition to their research degree.

Successful applicants will be informed of the award as soon as possible and by 15th May 2019 at the latest.

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