Propelling Plastic into Circular Economy

   The Business School

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  Dr Sudipa Sarker  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The world is facing extraordinary times and experiencing unprecedented disruptions. The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally altered the way we work and think about global challenges such as climate change. There is no better time than the present to handle one global wicked problem, namely that of plastic pollution. The ubiquitous material has percolated itself into a wide range of products, and consequently, we find ourselves wrapped in plastics. Such a wide variety of usage is problematic for at least two reasons. First, the amount of plastic produced is set to be doubled in the next 20 years, which will create an ecological problem, for instance, by posing a threat to marine fauna. Second, plastic production and consumption can have an immense impact on the environment and human health. In the UK, there are several initiatives for propelling plastic into a Circular Economy. For instance, The UK Plastics Pact which brings together UK government, NGOs and plastics value chain members to tackle the scourge of plastic waste. Furthermore, recently, Innovate UK has declared a project worth of 250,000 British Pound for collecting flexible plastic packaging at home. It shows a significant interest of the UK government on reducing plastic waste by 2025.

This doctoral project will focus on examining plastic waste supply chains and interventions for propelling plastic into a circular economy in the UK context. New organisational and supply chain models may be proposed. The research may build upon exiting theories from SCM and other fields including Industry 4.0, stakeholder theory, institutional theory, system dynamics, information system theory, and contribute to theory development in sustainable supply chain management, circular economy and climate change.   

The initial research questions guiding this study are as follows; doctoral researchers may take a number of directions as the research progresses, 

  • What are the challenges, barriers and constraints that different stakeholders face when trying to drive plastic products into the circular economy?
  • What are the various opportunities and solutions that can propel plastic products into the circular economy?
  • What is the role of digitisation in propelling plastic into circular economy?
  • How can the solutions drive sustainability, from the economic, environmental and social perspectives? 

Further sub questions to be explored are as follows:

  • Who are the relevant stakeholders of the problematic plastic products? How are they connected? What are the forward and reverse supply chains of problematic plastic products? 
  • How many problematic plastic products are produced, recycled, recovered, reused and disposed? How much economic value is reduced/gained by each stage of the plastic product manufacturing process?
  • What is the attitude of the different stakeholders towards plastic waste? What is the stakeholders’ rationale for disposal or reuse or recycling or recovery?
  • How to design economic, social and behaviour incentives in the plastic value chain to encourage responsible usage of plastics. What is the catalysing role of consumer sentiment and behaviour?
  • What is the best way to communicate research findings in order to realise sustainable social changes that may reduce the negative impact of plastic products? 
  • How can specific aspects of digitisation, e.g., big data, artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT), Cyber-Physical Systems, etc., enable the propelling of plastic into the circular economy?

The successful applicant will benefit from the expertise and network of the supervisory team in the management group of the Business School. Furthermore, the applicant will get opportunity to be involved in the funding applications, research, and teaching carried out within the field of logistics and supply chain management at the university.

Anticipated interview date 10-12 July. 

Academic qualifications

A first degree (at least a 2.1) ideally in Industrial Engineering, Engineering Management, Industrial Management, or Business and Economics with a good fundamental knowledge of quantitative and qualitative research methods.

English language requirement

IELTS score must be at least 6.5 (with not less than 6.0 in each of the four components). Other, equivalent qualifications will be accepted. Full details of the University's policy are available online Application process (

Essential attributes:

  • Experience of fundamental research project at the postgraduate level
  • Knowledge of sustainability, circular economy and plastic waste management.
  • Good written and oral communication skills
  • Strong motivation, with evidence of independent research skills relevant to the project
  • Good time management

Desirable attributes:

  • Training in quantitative model building as well as qualitative data analysis
  • Competent in quantitative research methods such as System Dynamics, Multiple-criteria decision-making (MCDM) or multiple-criteria decision analysis (MCDA)

Funding Notes

This is a fee-waivered PhD. There is no stipend attached to this PhD.


L. Patrício Silva et al., “Rethinking and optimising plastic waste management under COVID-19 pandemic: Policy solutions based on redesign and reduction of single-use plastics and personal protective equipment,” Sci. Total Environ., vol. 742, no. January, p. 140565, Nov. 2020.
O. O. Fadare and E. D. Okoffo, “Covid-19 face masks: A potential source of microplastic fibers in the environment,” Sci. Total Environ., vol. 737, p. 140279, 2020.
European Commission, “Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee snd the Committee of the Regions: A European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy,” COM(2018) 28 Final, vol. SWD(2018), no. 1, pp. 1–18, 2018.
M. Braungart and W. McDonough, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the way we make things. North point press, 2010.
M. Pagell and Z. H. Wu, “Building a More Complete Theory of Sustainable Supply Chain Management Using Case Studies of 10 Exemplars,” J. Supply Chain Manag., vol. 45, no. April, pp. 37–56, 2009.
J. Korhonen, A. Honkasalo, and J. Seppälä, “Circular Economy: The Concept and its Limitations,” Ecol. Econ., vol. 143, pp. 37–46, 2018.
J. Kirchherr, D. Reike, and M. Hekkert, “Conceptualizing the circular economy: An analysis of 114 definitions,” Resour. Conserv. Recycl., vol. 127, no. September, pp. 221–232, 2017.
Chauhan, C., Parida, V., & Dhir, A.. "Linking circular economy and digitalisation technologies: A systematic literature review of past achievements and future promises." Technological Forecasting and Social Change, vol. 177, no. April, pp. 121508, 2018.
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