With a portfolio of over 70 funded projects, the SSPP challenge is the largest and most ambitious UK government investment to date in sustainable plastics research and innovation, driving cleaner growth across the UK’s plastics, packaging and retail supply chains.
The Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Challenge (SSPP) is contributing to the UK’s drive for clean growth and industrial decarbonisation by funding ground-breaking research and innovation to make plastic packaging fit for a sustainable future. It aims to:
- deliver a reduction in unnecessary and single-use plastic packaging
- increase the viability and uptake of reuse and refill systems
- support new and improved recycling technologies and systems
The Challenge directly supports the 2025 targets in the UK Plastics Pact, which includes many of the UK’s major brands, retailers and plastic packaging suppliers among its signatories. Taking a collaborative, cross-sector approach, it brings together academia, industry and the third sector to tackle the technical, commercial and behavioural challenges associated with plastic packaging waste.
The £60 million funding has to date secured over £149 million in match funding from industry and, in total, is expected to leverage in excess of £220 million in co-investment, demonstrating significant supply chain engagement and support. It is also contributing to the creation of new jobs and skills across the UK, supporting the green skills and levelling up agendas.
Eight funding competitions have been completed and the Challenge now has a balanced portfolio of over 80 projects, encompassing:
- projects funded through a competitive process, including feasibility studies, academic and business-led research, and late-stage large-scale demonstrator plants
- direct funding awards, including the funding of an agenda-setting Fellowship in partnership with NERC to support the achievement of the objectives of the UN Treaty to end plastic pollution
Key priorities for the Challenge in 2023 to 2024.
Reuse and refill
Mainstreaming reuse and refill models is recognised as one of the tougher challenges to crack, with a number of barriers including price and optimization in the retail environment, consumer engagement, logistics, tracking, and cleaning. SSPP is funding number of projects – from major in-store trials to packaging tracking technology and consumer research – to move this agenda forward.
With the UK Plastic Packaging Tax driving up recycled content, the SSPP Challenge has funded a number of potential breakthroughs in high quality food-grade plastics recycling, including the world’s first mechanical recycling plant to produce food-grade PP, which is nearing completion thanks to a consortium project led by plastics recycling experts Berry Circular Polymers.
Films and flexibles
Often called the final frontier of plastics recycling, films and flexibles are under the spotlight like never before. SSPP is funding innovation at every stage of this packaging format’s life cycle, from design through to material innovation, kerbside collection, and new recycling solutions, including an award-winning cleaning process to produce food-grade recyclate from polyolefin film waste.
In SSPP’s most recent Future Plastic Packaging Solutions 2 competition, announced at an event in London, £3.2 million in funding has been awarded to 17 ground-breaking innovation projects. These range from encouraging consumers to embrace reusable and refillable packaging to new edible and biodegradable bio-based materials, advanced recycling technologies, and plastic pollution mapping.
Hear from thought leaders at the event about the key challenges in making plastic packaging more sustainable and how SSPP is helping:
- Mark Miodownik, Professor of Materials & Society, University College London
- Catherine Conway, founder and Director of Unpackaged Innovation Ltd
- Paula Chin, Senior Policy Advisor (Consumption), World Wide Fund for Nature
Large-scale demonstrator 1 programme
This major £20 million investment in four cutting-edge plastics recycling plants is designed to:
- reduce landfill, incineration and export of plastic waste
- recycle plastic waste into new, sustainable plastics
- expand the range of plastics being recycled
Case study: ReNew ELP – a novel commercial-scale chemical recycling plant
Enabling Research programme
SSPP awarded £8 million in funding for 10 university-led research projects aimed at finding solutions to existing issues with plastic packaging, reducing plastic pollution and unlocking 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.
Large-scale demonstrator 2 and business-led research and development projects
The SSPP Challenge awarded £30 million through two funding competitions. The successful projects comprised five large-scale demonstrator projects and 13 business-led research and development projects.
The large-scale demonstrators address three key packaging challenges:
- reuse and refill
- food-grade polypropylene recycling
- films and flexible packaging recycling
The business-led research and development projects cover a range of innovative concepts to improve plastic packaging sustainability and support greater recycling, including novel sorting, cleaning and recycling technologies, and new recycling-friendly coatings and films.
Circular Economy for Flexible Packaging (CEFLEX)
The CEFLEX initiative is a collaboration of over 180 European companies, associations and organisations representing the entire value chain of flexible packaging. CEFLEX aims to make all flexible packaging in Europe circular by 2025 and the £500,000 SSPP funding is supporting a comprehensive testing programme to underpin CEFLEX’s ‘designing for a circular economy’ guidelines.
The co-funded £2.9m FPF FlexCollect project is the most extensive pilot for household collection and recycling of flexible plastic packaging ever undertaken in the UK. Working with a number of volunteer local authorities, the project is delivering a series of innovative flexible plastic packaging household collection and recycling pilots that will run through to 2025. It will provide a unique opportunity to build vital understanding and data to inform the collection and recycling of flexible plastic packaging across different geographies, demographics and collection services.
The SSPP Challenge supported the delivery of the India Plastic Pact. India was the first Asian country to develop a plastics pact of this kind. In autumn 2020 SSPP committed £250,000 of funding to:
- enable WRAP to establish the India Plastics Pact
- initiate start-up
- engage the Indian government
- develop the appropriate targets and priority work streams for India
The pact was officially launched in September 2021 and SSPP has supported additional international work, including the development of further pacts in Latin America and an International Circular Plastics Flagship Competition fund to drive forward international innovation in key regions across the world.