The US Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has allocated nearly $3m to six universities in the country to develop educational programmes aimed at fostering a circular economy for plastics. 

This allocation is aimed at training students to discover and develop sustainable solutions to address the challenges posed by the current plastic production and consumption model. 

The awarded grants will support an interdisciplinary educational approach, encompassing various fields such as materials science, economics, business, and engineering.  

The Training for Improving Plastics Circularity (TIPC) Grant Program aims to prepare the country’s workforce for a shift from a linear to a circular economy, where the life cycle of plastics is extended through reuse, repair, and recycling. 

Under this programme, six universities will receive up to $500,000 over three years to develop and implement their respective programmes.  

These include Auburn University’s curriculum on plastic recycling, Hawaii Pacific University’s interdisciplinary minor on polymer circularity, and Penn State University’s modules on polymer chemistry and life cycle assessment.

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The University of South Alabama’s curriculum integration into engineering and chemistry courses, and the University of Toledo’s lab courses on plastic circularity will also benefit from the grant. 

NIST’s Circular Economy Program leader Kathryn Beers said: “There is a necessity in the workforce to think about materials, including plastics, and design them to be more than single use, but to be reused repeatedly by ideally having infinite lives. 

“To do that we need to educate different disciplines, and there is a huge unmet need at the undergraduate level.”   

This is the second year of TIPC Grant Program funding following the success of the initial year wherein $2.5m was distributed among five universities.