Institute for Sustainability

Consumption & Waste

Consumption and Waste

Demonstrating ways to radically reduce resource consumption, make its distribution more equitable and eliminate associated wastes and the impact of pollution on whole ecosystems.

Issues surrounding global consumption and waste are complex, contentious and timely. Researchers are developing approaches to these issues that present a real opportunity to make a substantial positive impact on the pathway to a more sustainable future.

Particular strengths and areas of research excellence:

  • characterisation of natural and human altered ecosystems
  • waste management and treatment (including development of novel waste treatment systems, including anaerobic digestion, biological systems and biodiversity modelling)
  • manufacturing and process engineering and intensification
  • the use of digital technology to support decision making, and improve processes 

The UK has significant proven capability from regional to international scales in social and technical approaches to consumption and waste. This presents significant opportunities for further gains in sustainability to be realised. 

Why is waste important?

Waste is an integral part of every economy. It is a by-product of business, government and household activity but is also a contributor to economic activity through the recovery of energy and resources.

The management of waste therefore has implications for the profitability, productivity and sustainability of business as well as the natural environment.

What can be done about waste and how we consume?

Waste is produced directly and indirectly throughout the lifecycle of the products that we consume. There are a variety of ways researchers at Newcastle University are investigating and developing solutions to consumption and waste including:

  • eliminating or minimising the production of waste and associated contaminants
  • mitigate short and long term effects of contaminants in the ecosystem (including the health and wellbeing of humans)
  • understand the key social and behavioural drivers that underlie current patterns of consumption and waste generation


Newcastle University is ideally placed for finding sustainable solutions to resource distribution and consumption, associated waste and its effect on ecosystems.

Examples of research in Consumption & Waste:

Reducing risk of micropollutants

Micropollutants are potentially hazardous chemicals present in products that are used on a daily basis such as cosmetics, pesticides, plastics and pharmaceuticals. Bacteria are capable of degrading these pollutants and research in this area seeks to improve the ways in which chemical risks are managed.

Open biological systems

Researchers are developing a suite of universal principles and models for the scalable simulation of open biological systems (NUFEB). They aim to gain a new understanding of the rules that determine the growth and dynamics of complex biological communities engineered for applications in environment, energy, materials and health.

Engaging research with society

In tackling issues around consumption and waste that directly impact communities, researchers are leading projects in upstream public engagement. This work involves civil society organisations in the formulation of research agendas

Future of coral reefs

Researchers are part of an EU funded project (FORCE) to identify the most appropriate management interventions for coral reefs and the governance structures needed for their implementation. This involves determining the effects of climate change, overfishing and pollution.

Using microbes to clean up oil spills

Microorganisms are responsible for cleaning up much of the contamination left from marine oil spills. Researchers are investigating ways to accelerate this process (KillSpill) through interdisciplinary methods combining research strengths in microbial ecology and petroleum geochemistry.

Sustainable European Freight

Through a unique European consortium (BESTFACT), researchers are working on key freight logistics challenges to reduce their environmental impact. This includes research on urban freight, green logistics and eFreight.

Making lithium-ion batteries ‘eco-friendly’

Li-ion batteries are widely used in electric vehicles, but research is needed to maximise their recycling potential and reduce wastes along the supply chain. Researchers have developed best practice for li-ion battery eco-design and monitoring to assess their second life potential for the ELIBAMA project

Further information