From plastic roads to recycled clothes: UEA’s Earthshot Prize 2023 submissions

Published by  Communications

On 2nd Mar 2023

Blue and green sea

UEA is once again one of the world leading organisations to nominate for the £1m Earthshot Prize, with the ClimateUEA putting forward four innovative new ideas from local companies and academics.  

 The Earthshot Prize is a scheme offering a prize of £1m in funding to five climate solutions: Protect and restore nature; Clean our air; Revive our oceans; Build a waste-free world; and Fix our climate. 

Championed by Sir David Attenborough, nominations for the prize have doubled since last year with over 1,500 nominations and this year there are four companies nominated by UEA. 

They are: 


 QFlow aim to provide solutions for the amount of waste created by the construction industry, which consumes 40% of the world’s raw resources and generates over 40% of landfill waste.  

With improved tracking and management of materials coming onto site and waste leaving, it is ensured that construction and development teams use only the right materials in their projects; reducing waste, saving time and money spent correcting errors, and delivering more responsible, sustainable construction for all.  

 QFlow has identified and unpicked a specific and massive problem for the construction industry, and then identified the technology to solve it. Using a combination of machine learning and human support, their customers were able to get the value and outcomes they needed, without the pain of adopting complex technology in an under digitised industry, leading to Qflow having a 100% client retention rate. To date QFlow has avoided carbon emissions o over 4,500 tons CO2e with targets to void over three gigatonnes of carbon emissions from the atmosphere by 2050. 

 QFlow’s aim is to expand their reach beyond the UK market and connect with other innovators to tackle sustainability in construction. However, they are aware that they cannot do this alone, and must find ways to collaborate with others in this space. With further reach and more data, their aim is to develop Qflow to support reuse and refurbishment marketplaces to fuel the circular economy in construction. Qflow could be the missing piece that helps them reach a critical mass, and further reduce material consumption and waste in one of the world’s most pollutive industries.  

Tracey Hearn, ClimateUEA Executive Officer, said: “We believe Q-Flow offers a very simple and elegant solution to a real-world problem which could have significant impact if scaled; material waste within the construction industry – a growing industry which is particularly un-green. UEA is also very pleased to be championing environmental solutions which are informed and led by women.”  


Less than half of the plastic ever produced is recycled. Approximately 79% ends up in landfill, whilst an estimated 75-199 million tonnes ends up in the world’s oceans, harming our environment and wildlife. Meanwhile, roads around the world are created using fossil fuel: bitumen. Globally, more than 742.5 million barrels of bitumen were used to create roads in 2022.  

MacRebur uses waste plastics that cannot otherwise be recycled to replace the bitumen used in the asphalt mix used for road construction and surfacing. 

MacRebur sources local waste plastics destined for landfill or incineration and incorporates them into asphalt used for road construction and surfacing. Granulating waste plastic into pellets before adding its patented activator, this blend of waste plastics replaces part of the bitumen binder found in asphalt. One tonne of asphalt produced in this way saves on average 10kg of CO2e compared to bitumen. Representing a truly circular process, at the end of their lifetime, these roads can be fully recycled. 

In 2022, MacRebur prevented 2,200 tonnes of waste plastic from going to landfill. This resulted in a saving of 440,000 tonnes of CO2e emissions compared to using standard bitumen. Throughout 2023, MacRebur’s team have forecasted for 3,200 tonnes of its product to be used in road construction and surfacing.  

Prof Brian Reid said: “MacRebur has engaged an intractable challenge of putting waste plastic to further use. By using plastic waste materials as a component of road surface composites not only is the plastic reused, but less hydrocarbon-based bitumen material is needed. Thus, carbon and waste issues are addressed in concert, and a superior more durable road surface created. A creative solution worthy of nomination for the Earthshot Prize.”   

Re-Fresh Global 

Re-Fresh Global has developed a technology that can convert almost any kind of textile waste into three groups of raw materials: ethanol, nanocellulose and sanitized textile pulp, which can all be applied either back in fashion or in other industries. 

There are a number of companies that want to tackle the problem of providing an alternative to traditional mechanical textile recycling yet there is no solution on the market yet that can work at scale. The collection and sorting of wasted textiles is being done mostly manually. Less than 15% of the collected textiles undergo a recycling process, which is limited to mechanical shredding and downcycling into low-value products. The rest goes into landfilling or is being incinerated. This system means that by using an end-to-end micro-factory, any kind of textile waste can be repurposed. 

In the next three years Re-Fresh Global aims to have 40-50 clients from various production industries to replace their virgin products with recycled ones, meaning that their partners will handle between 3,000-7,000 tons of textile waste a year, saving 21,000 tons of textile waste from entering the landfill as well as using it to replace virgin products that contribute heavily to CO2 emissions and water waste. 

Professor of Pharmaceutical Material Science and Technology, Sheng Qi, said: “Re-Fresh Global has the ambition to turn fashion and textile wastes into new resources. Through the re-use, re-make and re-cycle arms of their operation, they build a new type of circular economy with textile waste as the starting material. Their patented biotechnology that can transform shredded textile fibers into nanocellulose, ethanol, and sanitized textile pulp is truly transformative.  

“I am looking forward to seeing Re-Fresh Global to bring their operation to scale which will bring immense amount of social, economic and environmental benefits to the communities embracing their disruptive technologies.”  

GoCodeGreen – Decarbonising the Digital World  

GoCodeGreen calculates the carbon emissions related to the production and operation of digital products and services. The measurement platform, based on GHG Protocol ICT Sector Guidance, is aimed at decarbonising software and the technology value chain that supports it. The ICT sector created 1.4 billion tonnes CO2e or 2.5% of global emissions and consumed 4% of global energy. Data centres use about 2% of global electricity – 160TWh of energy. That’s equivalent to powering 32 million homes. 

Go CodeGreen have already worked across five industry sectors, 20 businesses and over 30 digital products. If all the actions identified were taken it would have resulted in a 56% reduction in carbon impact. The same as 11,000 tCo2e not emitted, 14,000 tonnes of coal left in the ground, 30m KwH electricity not used - all for 30 software products and the technology that support them. 

UEA Relationship Manager for Research and Innovation, Dr Colette Matthewman, said: “GoCodeGreen is really exciting and leading in an otherwise unserved space. What they are doing has huge potential for climate impact as it's such a widely underpinning area. They have taken big strides already in a short period of time. I think it’s clear that they're a good candidate for the Earthshot Prize.” 


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