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PhD Project: Universities as laboratories for change: Exploring pathways to a circular economy of plastics. (PhD Human Geography)

Project Description

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.

The Project

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.

Funding Notes

Full-time UK/EU PhD Scholarships will include fees at the ‘home/EU' student rate and maintenance (£14,777 in 2018/19) for three years, depending on satisfactory progress.

Full-time International Fee PhD Studentships will include full fees at the International student rate for three years, dependent 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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