Up to £8 million investment to develop “smarter plastics”

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has launched two new competitions to develop “smarter plastics” that are greener, safer and more easily recyclable, combatting the “scourge” of waste plastic globally.

Up to £8 million funding will help researchers develop recycling systems that can cope with rising volumes of recyclable materials and enable academics to analyse how package design impacts consumer behaviour – which could help businesses design and produce greener packaging that still appeals to consumers.

Plastics still play a vital role in the life of future businesses and consumers. In order to protect the planet from waste pollution it is critical that plastics are more readily recycled and sustainable.

New production and packaging techniques, through cutting edge technology, will enhance the longevity of the next generation of plastics packaging and make reduction, reuse and recycling easier.

“We have reached a critical point when it comes to saving our planet from the plague of plastic pollution

Chris Skidmore, Science Minister, said: “We have reached a critical point when it comes to saving our planet from the plague of plastic pollution. Tackling climate change is this government’s priority and we were the first major economy to legislate for net zero emissions by 2050.

“The UKRI competitions will help further the development of greener plastics that are safe, clean and recyclable, transforming plastic packaging and production now and far into the future.”

Paul Davidson, challenge director of the Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging challenge, said: “Plastic is a major part of our lives and as we all become greener, the calls to move away from plastic to preserve the planet have become louder. Our challenge and the government’s strategy for clean growth offers an alternative.

“We will seek ways to ensure continued use of safe, clean and easily-recyclable plastic. This will boost productivity and prevent disruption to business and consumers. Industrial and academic cooperation is a vital part of this process to bring these ideas to market.”


The two new competitions will reward forward-thinking researchers and businesses developing sustainable plastic packaging. This follows on from two previous competitions launched in December 2019 and all form part of the Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging (SSPP) challenge – which aims to make plastics greener rather than replace the material.

The two competitions open today focus on working with academia and industry to develop smarter plastics solutions. The first competition called ‘Enabling Research’ aims to promote academic-led research that can best support the aims of the overall SSPP challenge, and will welcome significant industry participation and co-investment.

The second competition is for early-stage business led projects, also open today, and requires academics and businesses to submit detailed information of the ways in which a new project would fulfil the aims of the SSPP challenge.

Applicants will have to demonstrate that they have adopted a lifecycle approach to plastics packaging

In particular, applicants will have to demonstrate that they have adopted a lifecycle approach to plastics packaging, examining the use of a material from its raw state, through to its transport, usage by consumers to end of life.

The two previous competitions that opened in December 2019 focused on finding prototypes for a new generation of plastic packaging. They offered £12m in funding for demonstrations of sustainable plastic packaging and further funding for a feasibility study to develop proposals for future demonstration projects.

All of this investment in new resource efficient and environmentally friendly products is part of the government’s commitment to boost R&D spending to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. The funding will help businesses, researchers and industry to transform plastic packaging and production.

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