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UKRI awards £8m for new sustainable plastics research projects

Fruit in plastic packaging

Today, UKRI announces 10 university-led research projects that will receive £8 million in funding from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

The investment is part of the Enabling Research competition in the Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Challenge (SSPP). It aims to help tackle plastic waste in the UK.

The research-awarded funding aims to find solutions to existing issues with plastic packaging, reduce plastic pollution and unlock barriers to create fundamental changes in the industry.

The universities are working with partners from across the plastics sector to ensure solutions are responding directly to industry needs.

The winners have designed innovative research projects, including:

  • increasing the use of compostable plastic
  • utilising smart technology to change the way takeaway food is packaged
  • creating new circular approaches to plastic waste management.

Winning projects

University of Strathclyde

The project aims to optimise the use of compostable plastics for multiple food packaging applications. This will reduce the reliance on plastic and encourage reusing plastics as much as possible while keeping food fresh and hygienic.

The University of Manchester

The One Bin to Rule Them All project aims to improve compliance with recycling through a systemic approach to plastic waste management. The project aims to demonstrate a viable system to reduce and then eliminate plastic released in the environment. It will do this by creating value in plastic packaging waste streams and simplifying recycling for consumers.

Brunel University, London

This project will address the problem of ‘hard-to-recycle’ plastic packaging and aim to create new management of waste streams, so high value, ‘food grade’ materials and non-food grade plastics are kept separate.

University College London

This project will investigate how compostable plastics are currently being used and seek to map out how these plastics can be introduced and integrated into existing waste management infrastructure.

Loughborough University

This project will research circular business models that combine smart technology enabled products and services to reduce the environmental, societal, and economic impact of food-to-go packaging.

City, University of London

This research project will expand and enhance the Household Simulation Model to focus on plastic food packaging to help manufacturers provide the right type of packaging to reduce both food and plastic waste.

University of Sheffield

This project will explore reusable packaging systems that have the potential to reduce the environmental impact of single-use plastic packaging by keeping packaging material in circulation for as long as possible.

University of Lancaster

The Plastic Packaging in Peoples’ Lives project aims to fundamentally shift behaviours around food plastic packaging. Focusing on how plastic packaging is embedded in consumers’ lives, the project will undertake a holistic examination of the packaging supply chain to close the attitude-behaviours gap in consumers’ approaches to plastic use and waste.

The University of Liverpool

This project aims to understand how the single-use plastic used for milk jugs, shampoo bottles, and piping changes during recycling. The project uses this knowledge to improve the post-consumer recycled plastic journey, blending them with virgin plastics to make new packaging. This change will result in less plastic waste, increased sustainability and less harm to the environment.

University of Cambridge

The Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging from Plants project will research into changing the genetic code of plants or blend with other materials from food or agricultural waste. The aim is to engineer materials with new functional properties, such as improved strength or better protection, reducing the volume of plastic packaging needed to keep food fresh.

Upcoming SSPP competitions

The next round of funding is now open to applications. The Future Plastic Packaging Solutions competition will provide funding of up to £150,000. Projects could include the re-design of existing goods, services or business models, or the design of entirely new ones which serve an existing need.

Paul Davidson, challenge director of the SSPP challenge, said:

The Enabling Research projects are a huge step forward in enabling the UK to find better solutions to existing problems in how plastic packaging is made, used and disposed of. It aims to fundamentally change how we package and recycle items for the benefit of the environment.

This funding will help experts from across the country address the important issue of making plastics more environmental-conscious.

We look forward to hearing the outcomes of this project investment and how this will benefit both the UK and global environment.

Further information

The Enabling Research call was managed by NERC with input from AHRC, BBSRC, EPSRC, ESRC and STFC.

About the Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Challenge

The Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging (SSPP) Challenge aims to establish the UK as a leading innovator in smart and sustainable plastic packaging for consumer products with £60 million in funding from ISCF which will be complemented by £149 million from industry.

The Challenge will deliver cleaner growth across the supply chain, with a dramatic reduction in plastic waste entering the environment by 2025. Part of this funding will develop and demonstrate at scale new business models for reuse and refill as well as behavioural change.

Two SSPP competitions will be opening in early 2021

Open from February 2021, the SSPP Demonstrator Round 2 (Expression of Interest), can provide funding of up to £12 million per project for large-scale commercial demonstrator projects, including first of a kind infrastructure or large-scale commercial trials of novel packaging technology or systems.

Open from March 2021, the SSPP Business-led R&D competition will provide funding of up to £4 million per project.

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