Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Chemical and Materials Engineering

First Advisor

Dr. Jeffrey Seay


Rapid population growth, urbanization and availability of pre-packaged consumer goods have led to increased generation and consumption of plastic – so much so that it has become ubiquitous in the environment. An affordable, durable, and lightweight material of construction, plastic is used in innumerable products in every country on earth. However, this explosion of consumption coupled with the material’s significantly low degradability have led to serious plastic accumulation challenges, which are now an imminent threat to terrestrial and marine species globally. These challenges are especially acute in developing countries, where capital and infrastructure constraints, poor governmental regulation and lack of waste management education have led to post-consumer use plastic simply being discarded in unregulated dumps, open plots of land, streets, and waterways. As plastic accumulates in the ecosystem it poses significant negative health consequences due to improper disposal, release of harmful toxins from open incineration, and bioaccumulation of microplastic in the food chain.

To address this challenge, this research applies a holistic approach to waste plastic management in developing countries by incorporating the principles of sustainability, appropriate technology, and circular economy to develop a locally managed decentralized circular economy (LMDCE). In a LMDCE, communities in developing regions are empowered to manage waste plastic accumulation at the source of origin by encouraging and implementing locally engineered, simple, and low-cost solutions that reduce, reuse, repurpose, and recycle waste plastic for reentrance into the local economy. In this analysis, the trash to tank (3T) approach is advocated as a favorable LMDCE solution for eliminating waste plastic from the ecosystem altogether by converting it into plastic‑derived fuel oil (PDFO) via thermal decomposition. The research further defines countries and communities most suitable for LMDCE; provides a tool for estimating waste plastic generation in regions lacking readily available waste management data; assesses the mass and energy balance of 3T in appropriate technology settings; assesses the composition and stability of PDFO; determines the generation and combustion emissions of PDFO; and identifies supply chain considerations necessary for sustainably implementing LMDCE and 3T. The proposed solution has also been tested in Kampala, Uganda as a case study.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

Rotary Club of Paducah, Kentucky and Rotary Club of Kampala, Uganda, 2019