Athlone Institute of Technology launched a brand new eco-initiative earlier this week with the intention of educating students, staff and the wider community about the circular economy and responsible consumption of plastic.
Dubbed ‘AIT Green Team’, the new plastic bottle collection and recycling scheme was launched with the help of Minister of State Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran who stressed the importance of ‘appropriately sorting and recycling the material used to make clear plastic’ for the benefit of the environment.
The material to which Minister Moran refers is Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), a strong and lightweight plastic often used in the production of food and beverage packaging. Despite this, consumer awareness of its value remains low.
According to Dr Noel Gately, who is the manager of Enterprise Ireland’s Applied Polymer Technology Gateway (housed in Athlone Institute of Technology), plastic is actually an incredibly valuable material that, when designed and disposed of properly, can be recycled again and again to make new products.
“The clear plastic soft drinks bottles used by brands like Coca Cola, Fanta or Pepsi – they are all highly recyclable and can be reprocessed into new products. It’s imperative that we start viewing plastic as a natural resource,” he explained.
Per inhabitant, Ireland is one of the top producers of plastic waste in the EU, with the majority of its waste being exported at a very low cost, landfilled or incinerated, as is the case in most European countries. “This is devastating for the environment and for the economy and by shipping this material out of the country or landfilling, the potential to upcycle the material is lost,” Dr Gately added.
With this in mind, Athlone Institute of Technology has installed a special Repak recycling facility to collect post-consumer PET and partnered with Shabra, a company that has transformed the Irish recycling landscape through the reprocessing of plastic waste film and post-consumer bottles. For every tonne of plastic waste collected, Shabra has agreed to make a significant contribution to the institute’s Student Hardship Fund.
“We’re delighted to collaborate with them on this project, which we hope will help educate our staff and students - as a microcosm of Irish society - about sustainable plastic packaging solutions and being more responsible in our consumption of plastic,” Dr Declan Devine, director of Athlone Institute of Technology’s Materials Research Institute, said.
“As we move towards a circular economy, where design and production must fully respect reuse, repair and recycling needs, it is imperative that we raise awareness of sustainability. We’re also extremely thankful to our industry partner Teleflex for supporting us in this endeavour and helping incentivise staff and students to recycle by sponsoring prizes.”
A leader in polymer research and innovation since the 1970s, Athlone Institute of Technology has made meaningful strides in plastics recycling research and development. It is currently spearheading a €5 million H2020 research project - Bio Innovation of a Circular Economy for Plastics (BioICEP). Led by Dr Margaret Brennan Fournet, a lead researcher in the institute’s Materials Research Institute, the project is aimed at reducing the burden of plastic waste in the environment.
Athlone Institute of Technology is a vibrant, contemporary institution distinguished by academic excellence in teaching, learning and research. The institute has enjoyed considerable success in recent years, most notably being awarded The Sunday Times ‘Institute of Technology of the Year 2020, 2018 and Runner-Up in 2017. The institute also tops Ireland’s official league table for research and has been listed in U-Multirank’s ‘Top 25 Performing Universities in the World for Interdisciplinary Research’ in 2018 and 2019. Athlone Institute of Technology has ranked number one for student satisfaction nationally for six consecutive years.