Hub members take part in the PELICANS program to tackle plastic problems

Plastic in the Environment: Leaders and Innovators Collaborating from Australia, New Zealand, and United States (PELICANS):

Aligned to the SMaRT Centre’s Sustainable Communities and Waste (SCaW) Hub’s task to research ways to reduce the effects of plastic and Ending Plastic Waste (EPW) mission of CSIRO, this research forum focused on a pressing challenge for society, economy, and the environment.

The program hosted 40 graduate student and postdoctoral researchers from the US, Australia and New Zealand to gain ‘Beyond the Classroom’ STEM education in a global setting. SMaRT@UNSW hosted the first week of the program, which ran 29 Jan to 9 Feb 2024.

The aim of PELICANS is to inspire and shape the next generation of sustainability researchers and leaders. The two-week program provided hands on experience of circular economy principles and connected students with experts in the field.

PELICANS partnership between leading sustainability organisations:

The activities focused on a pressing challenge for the environment, economy and communities: a circular economy for plastics and ending plastic waste.

The PELICANS initiative is a partnership between:

  • NSF Center for Sustainable Polymers
  • Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation
  • National Science Foundation
  • Monash University
  • University of New South Wales
  • University of Minnesota

It brought together expertise from SMaRT’s remanufacturing plastic waste and microplastic project, CSIRO’s Ending Plastic Waste Mission and the NSF Centre for Sustainable Polymers’s vision.

PELICANS plastic waste environment program
Image: TOMRA Cleanway showcased their Eastern Creek Facility. (Source: CSIRO)

Applying science in the PELICANS program

The PELICANS program was designed to allow students to see the real-world impact their research fields are creating.

The program covers practical applications of sustainable products and solutions and technical challenges in a circular economy for polymers (packaging, composting, recycling, depolymerization). The initiative addresses industry, local government, NGO and academic perspectives of sustainable polymers.

The aims of the PELICANS program include:

  • Supplementing traditional academic training for researchers at the intersection of sustainability and polymer science.
  • Increasing exposure to current industry and academic research, challenges in the plastics production and waste ecosystem and innovation in practice. 
  • Experiencing the interdisciplinary nature of research focused on sustainable plastics.
  • Equipping participants with systems level thinking about the entire plastics ecosystem in different global regions to drive change in their future careers.

This is achieved through:

  • Symposia: Poster session between participants and invited speakers from industry, academia, NGOs and partner organisations.
  • Professional Development: Facilitated workshops to explore sustainability, sustainability implementation, personalised project mentoring and storytelling.
  • Field Trips: Tours of various facilities (polymer manufacturers, material convertors, brands, waste management, research centres) and an excursion to collect microplastics in Sydney harbour.
PELICANS plastic waste environment program Sydney harbour
PELICANS participants collecting microplastic samples in Sydney Harbour. (Source: CSIRO)

Hub staff share knowledge with PELICANS participants

Sustainable Communities and Waste Hub members drew on the work being done as part of Impact Priority 2 (IP2): Reducing the impact of plastic and other materials during the event. IP2 researcher, Rumana Hossain, helped to organise the PELICANS sessions at UNSW and worked closely with the early career researchers throughout their time with the SMaRT Centre.

Hub leader, Professor Veena Sahajwalla, gave a presentation on the SMaRT Centre’s development of technologies and innovative solutions to enable ‘green manufacturing’ that brings together waste resources and remanufacturing. IP2 co-lead, Anirban Ghose, gave PELICANS participants a tour of the SMaRT Centre to show these processes in action.

PELICANS plastic waste environment program
Image: Hub researcher Dr Rumana Hossain taking part in the poster presentations by PhD candidates. (Source: CSIRO)


PELICANS is a collaborative effort empowering young researchers with practical knowledge in sustainable polymer science. The initiative emphasises circular economy principles and interdisciplinary learning for driving positive environmental change. Sustainable Communities and Waste Hub members appreciate the opportunity to share knowledge being generated by our research with the next generation of sustainability leaders.