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Supporting the Circular Economy: NIST Awards Nearly $3 Million to Education Programs Focused on Plastic Waste Reduction


In an effort to advance the future workforce needed to develop a circular economy for plastics, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has awarded six universities with nearly $3 million in grants intended to support the creation of programs and curricula focused on prolonging the life of plastics. 

Funding will support the Training for Improving Plastics Circularity (TIPC) Grant Program, created in response to challenges related to the traditional handling of plastics recycling waste, and growing concerns with mismanaged plastic waste, NIST reported.

Today’s linear plastics economy entails creating plastics from extracting petroleum and then discarding used materials into landfills or the environment. In contrast, the circular plastics economy takes a different systematic approach by keeping the manufacture and use of polymeric materials inside the economy, optimizing “reuse” value, with waste as a last resort.

To that end, the TIPC program, which is providing funding for the second year in a row, is intended to support the development of coursework and hands-on training resources, specifically “polymer measurement methods, manufacturing, and systems thinking” to support the growing field of circular plastics. Ultimately, the program and its outcomes are intended to advance U.S. industry competitiveness by helping to prolong the useful life of plastics and other materials safely, as NIST scientists actively work on measurements and standards to better understand what happens when plastics break down.

“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,” said Kathryn Beers, leader of NIST’s Circular Economy Program. “To do that we need to educate different disciplines, and there is a huge unmet need at the undergraduate level.”  

NIST has awarded grants of up to $500,000 to be allocated to the development of plastics waste reduction curricula and programs to: Auburn University; Hawai‘i Pacific University; Penn State University; The University of Houston; The University of South Alabama; and the University of Toledo.

Find out more about each University’s specific curriculums focused on plastics circularity on NIST’s news page.

This is the latest NIST effort focused on the circular economy. Last year, ANSI member and audited designator ASTM International, in collaboration with NIST, published a report that examines the key outcomes from a survey and workshop: “Fostering a Circular Economy of Manufacturing Materials.” That survey and related workshop brought to light several key drivers and barriers facing a circular economy and underscore the importance of standards to help guide stakeholders, particularly manufacturers, towards synchronized improvements.

Related News:

PLASTICS: Ways Plastics Help to Feed the World

Driving Sustainability Goals Together: Call for U.S. TAG Participants

ASTM International Collaborates with NIST on “Fostering a Circular Economy of Manufacturing Materials” Workshop Report


Jana Zabinski

Senior Director, Communications & Public Relations


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Beth Goodbaum

Journalist/Communications Specialist


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