ASTUTE 2020 (Advanced Sustainable Manufacturing Technologies) is a multi-university partnership of five Welsh Higher Education Institutions, part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government.

ASTUTE 2020 is designed to stimulate growth in the manufacturing sector across Wales, by applying advanced engineering technologies to manufacturing challenges, driving cutting-edge research, development and innovation.

Instrumental music in the background.

ASTUTE 2020 (Advanced Sustainable Manufacturing Technologies) logo.

Drone footage of Swansea University Bay Campus.

ASTUTE 2020 Higher Education Institution Partner logos - Aberystwyth University, Cardiff University, Swansea University, University of South Wales and University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

European Regional Development Fund logo.

Footage of Swansea University Bay Campus and its beachfront location.

Swansea University, College of Engineering building leading onto an ASTUTE 2020 Project Officer looking at a computer screen with computational modelling simulations on it.

ASTUTE 2020 project officer looking down a microscope and a Kuka industrial robot moving about in sequence.



My name’s Mark Langford, and I’m the Head of Manufacturing of Frontier Plastics Ltd, who are now part of the Vernacare group of companies.

Our primary functions at the Blackwood site in Gwent are the manufacture of sharps containers and other harm reduction and prevention devices.

It was always our plan to improve our green credentials as it were, and improve sustainability of our products. We were looking to increase the amount of recycled content that we could use within our sharps container range.

Following many years of association with ASTUTE, we knew what their capabilities were. We really did need that academic assistance along the way, and that’s where the opportunity arose to work with ASTUTE and WRAP Cymru to put a project together to help us locate and identify suitable materials that could go forward for the manufacturing of sharps containers. 

Mark is sat at a wooden desk with Welsh and English language ASTUTE 2020 branded pop-ups in the background. The pop-ups have the ASTUTE and WEFO logos visible. On the table are examples of Vernacare’s sharp waste containers in different sizes, with grey recycled material accessories.

Establishing shot of the outside of the Vernacare facility in Blackwood showing the Vernacare logo.

Close up shots of the yellow sharps containers that are made with 20% recycled content and the grey accessories trays that are 100% recycled materials.

Wide shot of the front entrance of the Vernacare office and manufacturing facility in Blackwood.

Shots of injection moulded plastic lids running along a conveyor belt at the manufacturing facility.

Close shot of the yellow injection moulded sharps bins stacked at the manufacturing facility ready to be packed and shipped. 

My name’s Costa Athanatos, I’m a Business Account and Project Delivery Manager for WRAP.

WRAP stands for Waste and Resources Action Programme. We are funded by Welsh Government to help them with delivering their policies and strategies for helping Wales get towards a Circular Economy, low carbon and contributing towards their future generations and wellbeing goals. 

Costa is sat at a wooden table with Welsh and English language ASTUTE pop ups in the background of the shot. The pop-ups include the ASTUTE 2020 and WEFO logos.

On the table in front of him are examples of the yellow plastic sharps bins that are now made using 20% recycled materials thanks to the success of this project. There are also 100% recycled accessories ranges on the table that are grey and black in colour.
Wide shots of the injection moulding machines in the Vernacare manufacturing facility with mechanical arms picking up and dropping freshly moulded products in the production line. 

What we had to find was a material that would cover the UN and ISO standards tests. The two of the main tests that our products have to go through are penetration and drop test.

WRAP were mainly focused on trying to locate the certain materials that were possibly suitable for our processes. Where ASTUTE came into play was on the lab investigation work that was done. They did a lot of paper searches in terms of looking for suitable materials and suitable combinations of materials. That was then followed up by us moulding test piece samples that they then took into the University, ran various analysis on the materials and gave us an indication of whether something was positive or negative. 

Mark sat at the desk with ASTUTE pop-ups in the background and sharps bins on the table.

Close shots of the machines on Vernacare’s production line.

Close shot of the yellow sharps bins and Vernacare branded cardboard boxes used for shipping.

Wide shot of injection moulding machines moving and working on the production lines.

00:02:24 We’re hoping we can show how working with supply chain we can overcome these barriers and stimulate the market for changing the way we design products which will increase the uptake of recycled polypropylene products and stimulate the market in Wales for recycled content and work towards a circular economy.

Costa sat at the desk with ASTUTE pop-ups in the background and sharps bins on the table.

Hydraulic machine injecting melted plastic into the moulds to create bin lids.

Medium shot of the mould opening to reveal a freshly moulded white bin lid that is picked up by a mechanical arm.

We’re now in a position where a portion of our range of sharps containers contain up to 20% recycled content. That is increasing and will continue to increase over the next 12 months. I think we’ve targeted getting to 30% recycled material over the next couple of years, and we’re well on the way to achieving that.

In terms of the supply chain for us, we are bringing materials in from a relatively local business. We’re converting their waste into a perfectly useable product.

Close shot of vast bins of yellow plastic pellets used for the manufacture of sharps bins at the Vernacare facility.

Medium shot of white bin lids and yellow bins moving on conveyor belts on the production line.

What we’ve found in working with ASTUTE is that when the project was being scoped and identified, they’re able to bring to the party the relevant expertise that will best fit into that envelope.

Within business we’re all looking to save money, but I think the main thing is we’re looking to make improvements. We’re looking at sustainability, we want to increase productivity, we want to do the right things in business. The assistance of ASTUTE, certainly over the last 10 years in our case, has been absolutely beneficial.

Shots of the product sample testing machines Vernacare were able to purchase using funds from a WRAP Cymru grant.

Medium shots of yellow bins moving on a conveyor belt.

Shots of two different female factory workers picking up bins from the production line to quality control before stacking ready for packing and shipment.


Since our association with ASTUTE we can directly attribute 9 – 11 full time jobs throughout that period with the various projects that we’ve undertaken with them.

What it’s done as well is allow us to develop our own people that we have on site and get them working with people in academia. The association has been extremely valuable to us and I would hope so the same for ASTUTE as well.

Shot of factory worker lifting packed boxes off the production line ready for shipment.

Mark sat at the desk with ASTUTE pop-ups in the background and sharps bins on the table.

00:04:06 It’s been a long collaboration and what we’re trying to demonstrate is that working together, we can overcome these challenges, and the idea is to encourage manufacturers to embark on that journey and to rethink their products.

Costa sat at the desk with ASTUTE pop-ups in the background and sharps bins on the table.

Wide shots of the injection moulding machines on the Vernacare production line.

The project was done on time with minimal disruption to the manufacturing facility going through the COVID period. To do that you’ve got to have a team around you, and the teams at Vernacare, ASTUTE and WRAP worked seamlessly if I can put it that way in helping to deliver this project.

It’s obviously a big thank you to everybody who was involved in the project, we couldn’t have done it without everybody’s support and assistance.

Mark sat at the desk with ASTUTE pop-ups in the background and sharps bins on the table.

Shots of Vernacare’s products moving along their production line – small yellow containers and packed cardboard shipping boxes.


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ASTUTE 2020 partner logos – Aberystwyth University, Cardiff University, Swansea University, University of South Wales and University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

ASTUTE 2020 and the European Regional Development Fund Logo.

ASTUTE 2020 website link.