£3.2 million for innovation in plastics reduction

Chicken with pita, pre-packaged sandwiches displayed in a commercial refrigerator

Seventeen ground-breaking projects announced today have the potential to alter the UK’s relationship with, and management of, plastic packaging.

Seventeen projects selected

Funded through the Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging (SSPP) challenge’s future plastic packaging solutions round two competition, the projects will support a broad range of innovation, including:

  • encouraging consumers to move to refill and reuse
  • new edible and biodegradable bio-based materials
  • advanced recycling technologies
  • plastic pollution mapping

The SSPP challenge represents the largest UK government investment into sustainable plastic packaging. The projects announced today will go on to support the achievement of the UK Plastics Pact.

Project categories

The projects fall into three categories.

Alternative materials

Five of the projects will be assessing the viability of a range of different plant-based biodegradable polymers to replace fossil fuel-based plastics.

The projects will develop new, ‘plastic-free’ packaging for a range of food, personal and cleaning products, as well as more recyclable takeaway food packaging solutions. Through these developments, the projects have the potential to reduce the consumption of conventional plastic and cut down on difficult-to-recycle plastic waste that ends up in the bin.

Stimulating reuse and refill

Five other funding winners will explore how to stimulate more reuse and refill and reduce single-use plastic packaging, both in our day-to-day grocery shopping and for food and drinks consumed ‘on the go’.

They explore different aspects of the challenge, including consumer perception and behaviour, cleaning and hygiene, and logistics.

Increased recycling and plastic pollution mapping

The remaining six projects focus on enhancing the UK’s plastics recycling and stimulating the use of recycled plastics.

The innovations being explored include new sorting and recycling technology and novel digital approaches to packaging design and ‘nudging’ consumer recycling behaviour at home.

The final project will use satellite data and artificial intelligence to build a global plastic map to support the tracking and removal of marine plastic pollution.

Fit for a sustainable future

Paul Davidson, Challenge Director for the SSPP challenge, said:

SSPP is working to make plastic packaging fit for a sustainable future, supporting over 70 research and innovation projects focused on consumer plastic packaging.

Taken together, these latest SSPP-funded projects offer up exciting opportunities to tackle plastic packaging waste holistically by reducing it at source, encouraging the rollout of reuse and refill business models, and driving more effective and sophisticated recycling and pollution monitoring and measuring.

Find out more about the SSPP challenge on the UK Circular Plastic Network website.

Further information

Project summaries

Algreen Ltd: bio-based multi-layer flexible pouch packaging

Algreen is a biobased-based, biodegradable, and recyclable film that mimics the performance and aesthetic of single-use plastic film used for cosmetic, food or fashion packaging.

The project will test the performance and durability of Algreen, assess the viability of at-scale manufacturing, and build the evidence base to support its launch onto the market.

The material’s suitability for consuming goods packaging applications will be assessed and its environmental performance validated through a full life cycle assessment.

Blow Moulding Technologies Ltd: optimisation of plastic packaging through computer-aided design

This project will develop software to support more sustainable plastic packaging materials and designs for the plastic bottle industry. The plastic bottle industry has a global worth of £129 billion and is manufacturing bottles at a rate of one million per minute.

The software will automate the design process:

  • allowing packaging to be designed and manufactured with just the right amount of material
  • supporting the faster uptake of new materials and designs incorporating more recycled content

Cauli Ltd: smart REusable cup dispensers and REturn kiosks

Cauli is building a smart reusable system that improves the user experience of borrowing and returning reusable cups. It aims to help the cafe industry transition to reuse systems by making the process of sourcing, returning, collecting and washing convenient and accessible.

Through an automated system that can be integrated to vendors’ point of sale, users can borrow a reusable cup free of charge, and return at a smart return kiosk where the returned cups will be washed and redistributed.

Circular11 Ltd: turning low-grade plastic waste into timber substitutes

Circular11 has developed a process that creates construction materials out of film-based and cross-contaminated plastic streams that are not currently recycled. However, the process requires highly consistent feedstocks like PPE waste.

This project will develop a dynamic process control system that can expand the range of low-grade plastic feedstock materials that can be used while ensuring standardisation of product quality. This process control system could soon be licensed out to other manufacturers, allowing the extrusion sector as a whole to accept and recycle a wider range of mixed plastic streams.

CircuPlast: a green chemical recycling process for PET

The CircuPlast technology team from Stopford Ltd and the University of Birmingham will be adapting their chemical recycling platform technology to provide a sustainable solution for waste PET packaging.

CircuPlast uses hot compressed water as a green solvent to convert problematic waste plastics (such as pots, salad trays, and tubs) into high-value chemical compounds suitable for the circular manufacture of fresh PET plastic.

CLUBZERØ (CupClub Ltd): reusable IoT-enabled takeaway food containers, process and infrastructure

CLUBZERØ (CupClub Ltd) will be expanding its patented circular economy ‘Sustainable-Packaging-as-a-Service’ concept. This delivers, collects, washes, and returns IoT-enabled (digital ID) food and beverage containers to businesses and consumers at a competitive price compared to the single-use plastic alternative but with significantly reduced carbon dioxide emissions.

The aim of the project is to add a wider range of food container sizes and formats for different applications to the CLUBZERØ model.

Codipac: a hygienic, reusable food packaging solution

Codikoat Ltd will be trialling the use of their novel antimicrobial technology, Cydal, to reduce the environmental impact of reusable food packaging associated with the need for high temperature washing or chemical sterilisation.

Applied during manufacturing process, Cydal kills viruses and bacteria. The project will develop and trial new reusable food packaging formats that contain Cydal and work with supermarkets and consumers to assess the viability of this alternative to single-use packaging.

Jara Partnership Ltd: eradicating unnecessary single-use plastic in personal care

With 50% of plastic bathroom packaging waste ending up in landfill or energy from waste, this project will see Jara Partnership develop a convenient refill system for
personal care products.

Let’s go Zero Ltd: circular supermarket

weekly.shop is a circular supermarket concept that uses no single-use packaging. ZEROWARE containers are reusable, made from 100% recycled materials and last for four years before they are recycled.

The system is designed to be frictionless for the customer, so that switching to reusables is easy. Customer orders are filled from local hubs on a flexible subscription, empties are collected when the next order is dropped off and brought back to the hub to be cleaned before being used again.

This project will support the final concept development for the service as a whole and container testing to verify the market proposition.

LitterLotto (partnered with RECOUP and Buckinghamshire Council): nudging behaviours towards consistent home recycling

The mobile ‘LitterLotto’ app incentivises people to dispose of litter appropriately through a combination of proprietary technology and behavioural science.

The ‘Bin it to Win it’ approach asks people to take a picture of litter as they dispose of it in exchange for the chance to win a prize.

This feasibility project will build extra app functionality, working with local councils to develop educational and incentive-based adaptations to encourage citizens to place used packaging in the correct recycling bins ‘@home’.

The app will focus heavily on single use plastic packaging, while also providing residents with concise, simple information to help them recycle the right thing more often.

MarinaTex Ltd: in-flight biopolymer-based flexible film consumer packaging

MarinaTex will be developing a sustainable, marine-based, compostable ‘polybag’ (IFF CoPack) for consumer products in the travel industry that is compliant with industry requirements and waste facilities.

In collaboration with industry partners, the prototype bags, made from seaweed and seafood waste. will be tailored to meet the travel sector’s specific hygiene, transparency and protection needs and tested with users.

PlantSea Ltd: seaweed made capsules for fluids and powders to replace PVOH film

PlantSea-Pack is a packaging solution that replaces single-use plastic sachets and bottles. The seaweed-based films are regenerative and are not harmful to nature or aquatic life. The water-soluble film capsules can be used for liquid and powder concentrates for personal care products, such as shampoos, conditioners and creams.

This project will assess the feasibility and accelerate the scaling-up of the capsules and refill-at-home system for cosmetics, cleaning, laundry, food or drink products.

As well as reducing packaging and eliminating the millions of non-recyclable plastic parts used in single pack formats, it also reduces the transit weight of high-water content products.

Plastic-i Ltd: enabling the solutions to marine plastic pollution from orbit

Marine plastic pollution is one of today’s most significant environmental challenges, with some 14 million tonnes of plastic waste flowing into the ocean each year and rising.

Using satellite data and artificial intelligence, Plastic-i is building a platform to facilitate the identification and removal of marine plastic on a global scale.

By detecting, mapping, and classifying floating debris, it will provide decision makers and clean-up operators with actionable insights to boost efficiency and measure the efficacy of interventions.

Recycleye Ltd: artificial intelligence-powered sorting for plastic packaging

Recycleye will develop its GRIP-R (Gripper Innovation for the Picking of Recyclables) concept. This is an artificial intelIigence-powered (AI) plastic waste sorting solution with enhanced gripping function to handle the growing issue of contamination caused by films and flexible plastic packaging.

The project builds on the firm’s innovative cost-effective, AI-powered system and advanced robotics technology to design an even more effective sorting capability. This delivers high quality recycled plastic streams and increases the waste industry’s ability to handle films and flexible packaging.

Sustainable Packaging Products Ltd: recyclable paper-based biodegradable frozen food packaging

Sustainable Packaging Products will be developing a fully recyclable, biodegradable paper-based packaging solution as an alternative to single-use plastic items for frozen food pouch and bag packaging.

TOPUP TRUCK Ltd: refill shopping on the doorstep

TOPUP TRUCK is a mobile zero waste shop that enables consumers to achieve a convenient transition to refill shopping by bringing the refill store to their door on an electric vehicle.

The accessible, fun, and community-centred approach overcomes some of the key barriers to refill adoption. This includes getting heavy containers to the shop, while continuing to offer consumers the option to buy as much as they need and to buy on impulse.

The project will partner with University of Arts London to conduct a study into how a mobile refill shop can be optimised in terms of customer experience and communications to widen refill adoption.

Xampla Ltd: plant protein paperboard coatings

Xampla will be developing and scaling up the manufacture of a plant protein-based coating for paperboard packaging applications.

Xampla’s innovative materials offer a sustainable replacement to synthetic polymer coatings while maintaining excellent functional properties. Xampla’s coating does not interfere with recycling waste streams and is compatible with home or industrial compost.

Applications for this technology include takeaway trays and boxes used in the food service market and wider paperboard fast moving consumer goods and cosmetics packaging.

Top image:  Credit: monticelllo, iStock, Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

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