This opportunity aims to fund interdisciplinary research to support a more sustainable overall plastics system and a move towards a circular plastics economy through developments in:
- biological sciences
- information and communications technology (ICT)
- mathematical sciences
- physical sciences
Plastics are an essential material within advanced societies. However, their extraction and production can have damaging impacts. Their low cost has led to a culture of disposal following limited use and their durability can be problematic at the end of their use-life.
Aligning to UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) strategic theme of ‘building a greener future’ and the UK’s net zero research and innovation framework, EPSRC and BBSRC are looking to support research into delivering a circular economy for plastics and harness the significant positive economic and environmental impacts it will enable.
The opportunity will directly deliver against EPSRC’s engineering net zero priority ambitions to collaborate across UKRI to deliver whole systems approaches and solutions to:
- reduce resource used
- eliminate pollution
- deliver a sustainable zero carbon future
EPSRC and BBSRC welcome proposals from across the plastics research community. The whole of the product lifecycle is in scope from extraction and novel and conventional production, to maximising the longevity and value achieved while in use and finally to recycling and recovery at the end of life.
We want to see interdisciplinary project proposals that commence by addressing a novel challenge relevant to delivering a more sustainable and, where appropriate, circular plastics system in one or more of the following areas:
- mathematical sciences
- physical sciences
Plastics research can fall within the remit of any of the research councils and is often interdisciplinary by necessity. For this opportunity proposals must lie primarily within EPSRC’s or BBSRC’s remit, or both. Interdisciplinary projects that in part fall within the remit of other councils are welcome and encouraged. Participation by researchers from other disciplines will be eligible for funding.
Where relevant EPSRC and BBSRC will work with other councils to ensure a representative range of subject expertise is involved in the peer review process. However please note that proposals deemed to have a majority remit within another UKRI council will be rejected. EPSRC and BBSRC reserve the right to make such remit decisions without reference to peer review.
What we expect to see in proposals
Proposals should address research challenges that support a more sustainable overall plastics system and where appropriate, a circular plastics economy. Applications that look towards creating tighter loops and maximising value retention are particularly encouraged.
Your proposal should:
- be adventurous and ambitious with the potential for high impact
- address real-world challenges
- be developed in partnership with relevant stakeholders such as industry or government. Proposals which connect and contribute to local innovation priorities are particularly welcomed
Proposals must present a credible potential translation pathway for the research outputs, demonstrating how the project will likely help deliver a sustainable plastics future through the practical application of the research.
You should consider and engage with wider stakeholders, including policymakers and where appropriate, the public.
The UK Circular Plastics Network (CPN) is willing to suggest relevant potential industrial partners wherever possible. To that end, you should approach CPN to explore possible collaborative opportunities as early as possible.
Before applying, you should:
- read the background for this opportunity in the ‘additional info’ section
- consider the broader context, sectors and plastics system or systems your proposed research outcomes sit within
This opportunity is open to any project addressing a research challenge related to accelerating the transition to a circular plastics economy. EPSRC and BBSRC particularly welcome proposals addressing the following priority areas where significant challenges remain:
- tighter loops of circularity by designing for reuse, disassembly, remanufacture (from molecular to whole product levels), and repair including in-situ (self-healing)
- novel approaches to recycling of the approximately 50 to 55% of plastics which currently are not recovered at the end of life
- recovery and reuse of plastics currently lost to the environment, in particular micro- and nanoparticles and fibres including the use of bioremediation approaches
- strategies for managing the impact of additives in plastics on recycling of plastic products. Additives can complicate or inhibit the bulk recycling of a single plastic type, but additives, including novel or innovative bio-additives could also be used to improve recycling rates without compromising the properties of the materials
- effective tracking, transport, separation or sorting and recycling technologies for harder to tackle polymers
- more efficient recycling technologies that maintain material properties over a greater number of lifecycles
- novel approaches to the analysis of available plastics data, to enable tighter material and product circularity loops including methods for measuring and estimating the embodied or lifecycle carbon emissions of plastic materials and products
- plastics constructed from bio-based and alternative feedstocks to petrochemicals, that contribute to a circular system
Any proposed new plastics, including novel bioplastics, must demonstrably conform to current and planned or anticipated regulatory controls, as well as aligning to the ambitions of the existing and predicted overall plastics system.
The substitution of plastics by other materials is outside the remit of this opportunity.
Proposals addressing plastic packaging are not excluded from this opportunity, but applicants must demonstrate how any project would be complimentary to other investments such as the smart sustainable plastic packaging challenge.
Whole system approach
You should consider the whole system (technological, economic, social, cultural and environmental) within which the proposed research outputs would sit.
You should consider:
- how the different parts of a system, at different scales (material, product and sector) influence each other as a whole
- the relationships and feedback loops between them
- the wider social, legal, regulatory, economic and environmental context
Responsible innovation and environmental sustainability
All projects funded via this opportunity must:
- follow the principles and guidance contained within UKRI’s environmental sustainability strategy (PDF, 1.5MB), regarding the sustainability of the research methodologies used
- consider the responsible innovation and environmental sustainability aspects of the proposed research approaches, and the associated project outputs and outcomes
A shift to a more circular plastics economy provides an opportunity for the UK to achieve more sustainable and clean economic growth and prosperity. This should involve the consideration of the risks, costs and trade-offs associated with different materials, technologies and approaches and an appropriate degree of application of tools such as life cycle analysis.
You should include at least 1 appropriate project partner (industrial, government or third sector), to demonstrate that:
- the project will address a tangible need
- a credible potential translation pathway for the research output is in place
Both sector specific and multi sector proposals are welcomed.
Project partner engagement must demonstrably extend beyond an advisory role, such as by providing:
- a cash contribution to the project, such as a direct investment to support a project research activity
- ‘in-kind support’, for example:
- access to equipment or other resources
- employee time allocated to involvement in research activities
It should be clear that each project partner has a clear interest in the project achieving outcomes and impacts relevant to its business or mission.
You will need to have secured a commitment to collaborate on the proposed project from at least one project partner for the outline stage of your application.
Funding and duration
We have up to £7 million to fund a number of projects.
Your project can be up to £1.75 million at 100% full economic cost. We will fund 80% of the full economic cost.
Projects can be up to 36 months in duration.
Equipment over £10,000 in value (including VAT) is not available through this opportunity. Smaller items of equipment (individually under £10,000) should be in the ‘Directly Incurred – Other Costs’ heading.
EPSRC approach to equipment funding.
You are expected to work within the UKRI frameworks for responsible innovation.
Applicants planning to include international collaborators on their proposal should visit Trusted Research for guidance on getting the most out of international collaboration whilst protecting intellectual property, sensitive research and personal information.