Seed Phase Teams


Reducing reliance on single-use plastics in laboratories

Challenge Every year, an estimated 5.5 million tonnes of single-use plastic products are disposed of by science laboratories world-wide. The Irish government has committed to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 51% by the year 2030. Creating sustainable alternatives and approaches to single-use plastics usage is crucial to achieving this goal. 

Solution Develop sustainable laboratory-grade bioplastics, using currently untapped waste-streams from the Irish brewing & distilling industries. While providing viable alternatives to single-use plastics, we will develop a pathway to inspire the adoption of sustainable solutions in laboratories. 

UN SDG Alignment GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production 

Team Jennifer Gaughran (DCU), Brian Freeland (DCU), Samantha Fahy (DCU) 

Microplastic-free Plastics

Minimising the release of micro- and nano-plastics from plastic products

Challenge Plastics can break down into small fragments known as microplastics due to chemical and physical processes.  Microplastics are now ubiquitous in the environment and are a global concern due to the potential risk to ecosystems and human health.  The focus to date has been on the transfer of microplastics from waterways and soils into the food chain driven by the degradation of plastics in the environment.  However, recent research from Trinity has shown that there is a significant and direct risk of exposure to microplastics from many plastic products commonly used in food preparation.

Solution Develop technologies to mitigate microplastic generation to allow the safe use and re-purposing of plastic products and to secure a sustainable future for products and technologies based on plastic materials. Our strategy is two pronged: (i) the development of surface treatment and coating technologies that prevent the exposure of plastics to the environment and inhibit microplastic release, and (ii) development of fabrication technologies to create plastic products with specific surface properties that prevent the release of microplastics.

UN SDG Alignment GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being 

Team John J Boland (TCD), Jing Jing Wang (TCD), Caolan Bushell (Mergon Group) 


Microplastic-Free Plastics


Removing plastic from food and beverage packaging

Challenge PET materials in food and beverage packaging are contributing to the continued growth of plastic in our environment. A truly recyclable alternative is needed that maintains or improves the functional properties of PET whilst reducing economic and environmental costs. Addressing this challenge would minimise the environmental impact of plastic containers, address a critical issue in sustainability within the packaging industry and provide a strong commercial opportunity for exploitation in Ireland.   

Solution Development of a manufacturing process that allows light weighting glass to 1/3 of normal weight whilst maintaining or improving strength and so minimizing barriers such as cost and GHG emissions (note that transport costs are not material if the entire manufacturing cycle is considered), in order to provide a truly recyclable avenue to replace PET packaging. This project introduces innovative techniques to minimise the role of defects and so increase the effective strength and fracture toughness of the material so that thin glass parts can be formed that allow the strength of much thicker parts to be exceeded and so use as a replacement for fossil fuel-based polymer containers. 

UN SDG Alignment GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production 

Team Mick Morris (TCD), Aran Rafferty (TCD), John Rordan (private entrepreneur) 

Plastic Raiders

Removing polluting plastics from the coastal marine environment

Challenge Within the marine context, millions of tonnes of plastic enter our oceans annually as micro- to macroplastic litter. The economic cost to marine natural capital is estimated to range from $3300–$33,000 per ton of plastic per year. Larger plastics entering ocean waters have two fates - floating on the surface or sinking due to biofouling and/or ballasting. If not removed by clean-up operations, macroplastics (>5 mm) may harm many types of marine life through entanglement or ingestion. They also fragment and degrade into microplastics that can be ingested and incorporated in bodies and tissues of many organisms. Being able to detect larger floating plastics in coastal waters before they become entangled, ingested, exported and/or fragmented, may help to answer key questions about sources, pathways and trends. Furthermore, actions that highlight and reduce marine plastic pollution in the context of an increasingly stressed marine environment can be counted as investments toward the health and future resilience of our global marine ecosystem services.

Solution The project will combine remote sensing technologies and bottom-up citizen science to create sustainable, intergenerational change in polluting and environmental activism behaviours. Citizens will be engaged by the Social Champion in the civil society organisation Irish Surfing Association and by the Impact Champion in Clean Coasts, who will leverage existing connections with local communities in Ireland. The project will enable citizens to act on climate change and for sustainable development through better monitoring and observation of the environment and their environmental impacts, and acting upon them by removing plastics from coastal environments. The key societal impacts of the citizen science activities will be to raise awareness, engage and empower citizens and consumers with concrete tools to monitor their impacts on the environment.

UN SDG Alignment GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities 

Team Francesco Pilla (UCD), Jennifer Symonds (UCD), Tim Ferguson (Irish Surfing Association) 


Concept Phase Teams