Background to this opportunity
Plastics are an essential material within advanced societies. Worldwide, approximately 370 million tonnes of plastics are produced each year.
In 2025, plastic production is expected to reach over 600 million tonnes per year (Plastic Atlas, facts and figures about the world of synthetic polymers). Primarily developed from fossil fuel feedstocks, they have a broad range of applications from preserving food to lightweighting of components to improve energy efficiency of advanced technologies.
Plastics are cheap to produce, durable and often have unrivalled functional properties. However, their extraction and production can have damaging results. Their low cost has led to a culture of disposal and their durability can be problematic at the end of their use-life. A circular economy for plastics could help:
- reduce resource use and the damage this causes
- reduce waste
- improve recycling and recovery processes.
Plastics recycling is a flourishing industry globally, but it is focused primarily on solid packaging. Approximately 50 to 55% of unwanted plastic products are incinerated (energy from waste), go to landfill or become fugitive in the environment.
Where options do exist, current recycling technologies also vary in efficiency and effectiveness. For instance, pure polyethylene terephthalate (PET) waste can be recycled repeatedly without markedly impacting on the properties of the material.
However, for many polymers, current approaches to recycling degrade the material over time. Current methods for recycling of plastics can also be very energy intensive and limited in their ability to process mixed materials.
The UK and devolved administrations have a number of policies of relevance to the area setting out a number of ambitions over the coming decades. These include:
Grant additional conditions
Grants are awarded under the standard UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) grant terms and conditions.
EPSRC is fully committed to developing and promoting responsible innovation. Research has the ability to not only produce understanding, knowledge and value, but also unintended consequences, questions, ethical dilemmas and, at times, unexpected social transformations.
We recognise that we have a duty of care to promote approaches to responsible innovation that will initiate ongoing reflection about the potential ethical and societal implications of the research that we sponsor and to encourage our research community to do likewise.
Links to wider programme or area
There are many different definitions of a circular economy. At its heart, UKRI considers it to be about:
- producing less
- keeping the products, materials and resources we do use and produce in circulation at their highest value for as long as possible
- recovering resources after use.
The UKRI 2022 to 2027 strategy aims to drive the development, adoption and diffusion of green technologies, building a sustainable circular economy and a greener future for the UK as we move to net zero. More circular use of resources is crucial to:
- achieving net zero carbon emission targets
- reducing resource consumption, waste and pollution harmful to biodiversity
- enhancing health and resource security
- offering the UK significant economic, social and environmental benefits.
Supporting the interdisciplinary, whole systems, engineering, physical sciences, maths and information and communications technology research and innovation needed to deliver a circular economy is a priority for EPSRC. It directly delivers against EPSRC’s Engineering Net Zero priority ambitions to collaborate across UKRI to deliver whole systems approaches and solutions to:
- reduce resource use
- eliminate pollution
- deliver a sustainable zero carbon future.
BBSRC supports multi-stakeholder bioscience funding that generates economic, environmental and social benefits through a circular bioeconomy.
This opportunity follows the UKRI £20 million Plastics Research and Innovation Fund and runs concurrent to the UKRI £60 million smart sustainable plastic packaging Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) initiatives.
Full proposal stage requirements
Only applicants who are successful at the outline stage will be invited to submit a full proposal.
Full proposals invited following a successful outline stage must have the ‘related grant’ field completed in Je-S. Please use the option ‘successful outline’.
The full proposal should expand upon the project presented in the outline application, without significant divergence from that. Should a significant divergence be deemed to have occurred, EPSRC reserves the right to reject the full proposal without reference to peer review.
Your full submission counts towards the EPSRC repeatedly unsuccessful applicants policy.
Although proposals may be multi-institutional, only one application form should be submitted for each bid.
EPSRC will need to receive invited full proposal applications by 16:00 on 17 January 2023.
Stage two: full proposal documentation
As well as the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) application form, the following documents must be submitted:
- case for support (eight sides of A4, two on your track record and six on the scientific case which should also show how the proposed research will improve the sustainability of plastics)
- workplan (no more than one side of A4)
- justification of resources (up to two sides of A4)
- CVs (up to two sides of A4 each) for named:
- postdoctoral staff and researcher co-investigators (research assistants who have made a substantial contribution to the proposal and will be employed on the project for a significant amount of time)
- visiting researchers
- letters of support from all project partners included in the Je-S form (no page limit). At least one project partner is required for this opportunity. See the EPSRC guidance on project partners letter of support
- technical assessments for facilities listed as requiring one in the Je-S guidance (no page limit)
- host organisation letter of support (up to two sides of A4)
- cover letter (optional attachment). There is no page limit for this and it is not seen by peer review.
You should attach your documents as PDFs to avoid errors. They should be completed in single-spaced Arial size 11 font or similar-sized sans serif typeface.
Advice on writing proposals for EPSRC funding.
Stage two: assessment criteria
Peer reviewers will assess the research excellence of the proposal, making reference to:
- the novelty, relationship to the context, timeliness and relevance to identified stakeholders
- the ambition, adventure, transformative aspects or potential outcomes
- the suitability of the proposed methodology and the appropriateness of the approach to achieving impact.
National importance (secondary major)
Peer reviewers will assess how the research:
- contributes to, or helps maintain, the health of other disciplines
- contributes to addressing key UK societal challenges
- contributes to future UK economic success and development of emerging industry or industries
- meets national needs by establishing or maintaining a unique world-leading activity
- complements other UK research funded in the area, including any relationship to the EPSRC or BBSRC portfolio
- plans for dissemination and knowledge exchange with potential beneficiaries of the research.
Applicant and partnerships (secondary)
The ability to deliver the proposed project, making reference to the:
- appropriateness of the track record of the applicant or applicants
- balance of skills of the project team, including collaborators.
Resources and management (secondary)
The effectiveness of the proposed planning and management and whether the requested resources are appropriate and have been fully justified, making reference to:
- any equipment requested, or the viability of the arrangements described to access equipment needed for this project, and particularly on any university or third-party contribution
- any resources requested for activities to either increase impact, for public engagement or to support responsible innovation.
Opportunity specific criteria
Fit to opportunity (secondary major)
Alignment of the research programme to the aims and scope of the opportunity.
As part of the full proposal application process, you will be invited to nominate up to three potential reviewers who you feel have the expertise to assess your proposal.
Please ensure that any nominations meet the EPSRC policy on conflicts of interest.
See more information about the reviewer selection process.
Guidance for reviewers
When completing assessments, reviewers should use the section marked ‘opportunity specific criteria’ to address the fit to opportunity criterion, as defined in the assessment criteria above.
For more information, refer to the:
For interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary proposals, reviewers should state which aspects of the proposal they feel qualified to assess.
Feedback on the full proposal is provided by the reviewer’s comments. Unless sifted prior to the meeting, the rank order list information is published on the EPSRC’s Grants on the Web (GOW). Information is published on GOW shortly after the meeting.
Equality impact assessment (PDF, 234KB)