The UK's 'biggest ever' funding for plastic innovators: ‘We’re looking for projects that can make a big impact’

By Katy Askew

- Last updated on GMT

Pic: GettyImages-Larina Marina
Pic: GettyImages-Larina Marina

Related tags Plastic

The UK Government is making its ‘biggest ever’ intervention to advance the sustainability of plastic packaging by opening its ‘largest scale’ grants to researchers and innovators across the country.

UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) is launching its Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging (SSPP) Challenge programme, in a move the government said aims to establish the UK as a ‘leading innovator in sustainable plastic packaging’ for consumer products, delivering ‘cleaner growth’ across the supply chain.

SSPP will invest £60 million until 2025, with the funded projects attracting up to £149 million of co-investment from industrial partners.

The aim is to support projects that will help dramatically reduce the amount of plastic waste entering the environment by 2025.

“Our targets require us to contribute to achieving the Plastic Pact Targets which have a deadline of 2025,”​ Paul Davidson, SSPP Challenge Director, told FoodNavigator.

“We’re particularly looking for projects that can make a big impact… and that focus on much-needed solutions for packaging reduction, re-use, refill and changing consumer behaviour when it comes to plastic packaging use.”

Davidson said he believes ultimately a solution to the plastic problem will require elements of all strategies – from reduction to improved recycling and the development of new materials. “We will need all of these solutions to maximise the sustainability of plastics packaging. We do use the waste hierarchy principle to guide us in achieving a balanced portfolio of projects,”​ he noted.

UKRI believes the focus should be at the top of the waste hierarchy - the reduction and re-use of packaging - which would represent a true shift from a linear to a circular economy solution for plastic packaging.

The scale-up challenge

The first projects, which were awarded grants by SSPP last year, are already making ‘exciting progress’. These include four large-scale commercial demonstration projects which, at £20 million of SSPP funding, represent the UK government’s biggest investment ever into advancing plastic recycling technologies.

These large projects pave the way to the next stage in SSPP’s evolution – a shift from smaller, earlier stage projects towards funding bigger, more ambitious projects, the organization said.

To enable this evolution across February and March SSPP is launching the Demonstrator Round 2 competition, a £16 million fund. This competition will fund large-scale commercial demonstration projects, including large-scale commercial trials of novel packaging technology or systems.

“Our large-scale Demonstrator competitions are specifically designed to help with the challenges associated with scaling up. During the SSPP challenge development phase, stakeholders clearly articulated the need for support to scale-up and de-risk infrastructure investment. This is why the Demonstrator strand is by far the largest investment that SSPP will make,”​ Davidson told this publication.

The Demonstrator competition is open to collaborations, which the SSPP is inviting to participate in the Expressions of Interest Competition. Grants available from the follow-on full submission will be between £1 million and £12 million, subject to this competition’s rules.

You can now register to the briefing event on 9th February.

Reducing the risk for business-led R&D projects

SSPP is also opening a competition to fund ‘bold research and development projects’ that are not yet at large, commercial demonstration scale. The maximum grant will be £4 million.

The SSPP’s ambition is to ‘remove a bid slice of the risk inherent in ambitious R&D work’, Davidson said, adding: “They represent a fantastic opportunity for businesses to help shape a sustainable future for plastic packaging.”

The timeline for moving from investment to actual impact is variable – but the SSPP-baked projects are designed to provide ‘a pipeline of delivery’, Davidson noted.

“For example, we expect our D1 demonstration plants to come on stream within two years and if successful will provide the UK with an additional 80kt/a of high value, leading-edge plastic recycling capacity. However, we also expect some of our other projects, especially in our academically led enabling research programme, to set the direction of plastic sustainability development for the next 10 years.”

SSPP funded projects include the development of new technology to enable single-layer plastic films to be produced that have barrier properties equivalent to the multi-layer plastic films currently used in a wide range of single-use packaging - allowing them to be recycled rather than landfilled or incinerated.

Another project is proving it’s possible to get rid of single-use plastic packaging within the supply chain with a reusable alternative that is financially, operationally and environmentally viable.

Other projects include a collaboration working to replace polystyrene and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) in pots, tubs and tray applications whilst another company has identified a mechanical process which will allow the vast majority of post-consumer films to be suitable for recycling. Meaning a large volume of waste film which was previously sent to landfill, incinerated or lost into the environment will be recovered and could be reused in new packaging applications.

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