Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Enabling research in smart sustainable plastic packaging (SSPP)

The aim of this programme is to establish the UK as a leading innovator in smart and sustainable plastic packaging for consumer products, delivering cleaner growth across the supply chain, with a significant reduction in plastic waste entering the environment by 2025.

Budget:
£8 million
Duration:
2020 to 2024
Partners involved:
Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) on behalf of UKRI

The scope and what we're doing

Plastics have revolutionised the way we live. For many consumer products, it is the plastic packaging that ensures quality, longevity and safety. However, the volume and durability of plastic packaging have significant consequences and the UK needs to urgently address growing concern about the environmental, social and economic impact of the use of plastic packaging and its disposal post-consumption.

Plastic is likely to continue to have an important role as a packaging material in everyday consumer items. The challenge is to find ways to ensure the plastic packaging we use is easily recyclable, can be used multiple times, and is not released to the environment.

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, delivering cleaner growth across the supply chain, with a significant reduction in plastic waste entering the environment by 2025.

The purpose of this enabling research funding opportunity is to support research that addresses widely understood problems in relation to plastic packaging, whose solutions are unknown today, but which if solved, will remove existing barriers to fundamental systems change, and make an important contribution to achieving the objectives of the SSPP challenge.

With investments from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF), UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) are working with the academic community, businesses and innovators to drive the transition to smart sustainable plastics.

The SSPP Challenge

The SSPP Challenge is funded by the ISCF, the UK government’s flagship, challenge-led, innovation programme.

The ISCF is a collective fund, aiming to bring together the UK’s world-leading research base and our most innovative businesses to solve the major industrial and societal challenges of our time.

The SSPP Challenge seeks to deliver sustainable environmental, societal and/or economic benefits. Aligned to the government’s clean growth grand challenge and ISCF objectives, the SSPP Challenge seeks to make a significant contribution to the UK target of 2.4% of GDP in research and innovation spend, with SSPP innovation recognised internationally as a UK strength, and source of export growth and inward investment.

The SSPP Challenge has three workstreams.

Core programme

Up to £2 million available that will deliver leadership and foster collaboration between industry, academia and government by convening and commissioning workshops and networking activity, and collecting, synthesising and disseminating results from across the SSPP workstreams.

Enabling research

Up to £8 million is available for a series of grants to establish a balanced portfolio of academic-led research and development to address known problems and knowledge gaps in relation to plastic packaging, working with project partners and actors from across the supply chain, where relevant.

Dynamic and collaborative research and development (R&D)

Up to £50 million is available for funding of industry-led, multi-disciplinary collaborative R&D projects, and multi-partner consortia scale-up and deployment of demonstrators to develop new technologies at scale and support their adoption by industry.

Enabling research

The aim of the enabling research workstream is to support research that addresses widely understood problems in relation to plastic packaging, whose solutions are unknown today, but which if solved will unlock existing barriers to fundamental systems change, and make an important contribution to achieving the objectives of the SSPP Challenge.

The specific SSPP programme objectives that apply to the enabling research workstream are to:

  • deliver innovative research and innovation to support more sustainable plastic packaging in line with the UK Plastics Pact targets
  • increase UK plastic packaging supply chain collaboration in order to improve sustainability
  • increase understanding of environmental impacts of existing and new plastic packaging to inform new and improved design, technologies and processes
  • increase understanding of behaviour on the sustainability of plastic packaging to inform new and improved design, technologies, processes and business models.

The SSPP Challenge requires research questions and research outputs to be framed in the context of their impact on activities and environmental consequences across the plastic packaging supply chain.

Why we're doing it

Since they were invented in the early 20th century, synthetic plastics have been revolutionary. They have changed the way we live and are now an essential part of everyday life and embedded in the global economy. Plastic packaging for consumer goods such as cosmetics, food, drink, toiletries, cleaning and healthcare products assures authenticity, quality and safety.

Annual global production of plastic now exceeds 300 million tonnes, and this is expected to triple by 2050. In the EU, the plastics sector employs 1.5 million people and generated a turnover of €340 billion in 2015. However, the ubiquity and durability of plastic packaging has significant consequences and the UK needs to urgently address growing concern about the environmental impact of plastics in packaging. Plastics use has a number of negative features that need to be addressed to create a more sustainable economy.

Reliance on CO2 producing fossil feedstocks

Over 90% of plastics produced are derived from virgin fossil fuels, representing about 6% of global oil consumption. If the current strong growth of plastics usage continues as expected the plastics sector will account for 20% of total oil consumption and 15% of the global annual carbon budget by 2050.

Energy requirements for plastics production

The processes of oil refining, cracking and polymerisation of monomers are estimated to account for over 95% of the total energy consumed in plastics production.

Significant environmental and human health impacts

Each year at least 8 million tonnes of plastics leak into the ocean threatening marine wildlife. This is expected to quadruple by 2050. The potential for contamination of the food chain also presents human health hazards.

Social and economic impacts

Negative social and economic impacts are increasingly arising from the generation of significant volumes of plastic waste, littering and inappropriate waste disposal. In addition, 95% of plastic packaging material value, $80-120 billion annually, is lost to the economy after a short first use, via landfill, incineration or the environment.

Barriers and opportunities

The plastic packaging value chain is highly complex and fragmented. The proliferation of materials, formats, labelling, brand identity, collection schemes, and sorting and reprocessing systems are significant barriers to plastic packaging dematerialisation.

Opportunities exist to radically transform the UK’s existing linear manufacturing and consumption pattern.

Opportunities, support and resources available

Who to contact

Sara Banning, Innovation Lead

Email: plastics@nerc.ukri.org

Telephone: 07880 051539

Ashleigh Sladen, Programme Manager

Email: ashleigh.sladen@nerc.ukri.org

This is the integrated website of the seven research councils, Research England and Innovate UK.
Let us know if you have feedback or would like to help us test new developments.