The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said yesterday the multi-million-pound investment could help develop new forms of environmentally-friendly plastic packaging made from farming, food and industrial waste.
Sources could include sugar beet, wood chippings and food waste, it said, allowing the UK to move away from oil-based plastics.
The investment could also be used to develop smart packaging labels that inform consumers how to recycle the packaging, which would “revolutionise the way recycling is sorted in waste plants”.
This investment in sustainable plastic packaging was announced alongside a strategy to boost the UK’s bio-economy that aims to set standards for bio-based and bio-degradable plastics and reduce the negative environmental impact of plastic.
However, there is a caveat: “This investment is subject to industry entering into partnership with government and providing significant co-investment to this challenge,” said the government.
Energy and clean growth minister Claire Perry said: “Finding innovative solutions to tackle our use of harmful plastics which blight our land and seas is a major global challenge, and opportunity - one our nation of researchers and innovators is fit to seize.
“Today’s funding and sector strategy enhance our position as a global leader on improving our environment and tackling climate change. It will make us a beacon for design, manufacturing and exporting of sustainable plastics and environmentally-friendly replacements for polluting products as we move to a greener, cleaner economy."
The announcement is “a key part” of the government’s Industrial Strategy, it said, and funding will be accessible through the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.
The UKRI will lead a series of competitions through which businesses can apply for funding.
“Innovators are being challenged to make the UK a world leader in creating sustainable packaging and reduce the impact of harmful plastics on the environment, as the UK seizes the economic opportunity of the global shift to greener, cleaner economies,” the department said in a statement.
The UK has set commitments to reduce single-use plastics and increase use of recycled plastic in new products.
Last year UK sales of packaging totalled around £11 billion (€12.4bn). Use of packaging is increasing due to changing consumer behaviours such as the rise of online shopping.