UKRI invests £2M in plastic packaging innovation

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has announced funding of almost £2 million into 14 projects tasked with developing sustainable solutions within the plastic packaging market, as part of the Future Plastic Packaging Solutions Fund.

The funding aims to develop and demonstrate at scale ‘new business models for reuse and refill’, as well as ‘behavioural change’.

Plastic packagingProjects include a number of new biobased polymers which have the potential to replace the current oil-based plastic packaging materials in multiple applications for everyday consumer products. Funding will also help prototype new cleaning product ranges in reusable and refillable packaging, which when disposed of, will hope to produce significantly lower carbon dioxide emissions than single-use alternatives.

Loopy Products Ltd, recently featured on Dragons Den for their ‘eco cleaning’ products, is working to develop a formula for the first-ever tableted dish soap that could replace the 500ml dish soap plastic bottles and, instead, be dissolved by the consumer at home.

A project led by Central Pharma Contract Packaging Limited hopes to create a circular system that will enable 100 per cent of medicine blister packs to be recyclable with convenient drop off points for the public. The Ocean Bottle Ltd is expected to design and test the first ever customer loyalty platform that incentives refills using guaranteed plastics collection.

Funding has also been allocated to not-for-profit organisations seeking to improve public information and resources to implement reuse and refill.

The Waste and Resources Action Plan aims to improve public understanding of how to make refill solutions work for the ‘big weekly shop’, including the full journey from home to store. Projects led by OPRL and Recoup will aim to deliver solutions such as effective labelling systems and communications strategies which will make it easier for the public to know how and where to properly recycle their plastic packaging. Recoup will also be working with 13 Kent Councils and around 1.5 million residents to evaluate the understanding and effectiveness of communications related to recycling.

The 14 projects, including those detailed above, will engage with an extensive network of stakeholders from the plastic packaging value chain as part of the challenge, in order to develop solutions for the complete plastic packaging life cycle, from production and design to recycling and reuse. These projects will bring together start-ups with large consumer brands and established environmental organisations in an effort to shift citizens’ attitudes and behaviours towards plastic waste.

The sum was invested through the Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging (SSPP) Challenge, which has supplied companies seeking innovation in the industry with over £30 million in financial support to date. The challenge was set up to ‘establish the UK as a leading innovator in smart and sustainable plastic packaging for consumer products’, according to SSPP, intending to endow participating businesses with £60 million from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund in total, accompanied with a further £149 million to be contributed from industry.

Other competitions within the challenge include the SSPP Demonstrator Round 2 Fund (investing £16 million) and the Business-led R&D Projects Fund (investing £8 million). The projects must also address the UK’s Plastics Pact target, which calls members of the Pact to eliminate unnecessary plastic single-use packaging through redesign, innovation or alternative delivery models by 2025.

Paul Davidson, Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Challenge Director said: “We are funding some really smart innovations for consumer packaging.

“When these projects move into the distribution phase, we are going to see some big changes in how we shop, our experiences with food packaging and what we understand to be plastic packaging. A change in our behaviour will be the driving point for this change in moving from single-use plastics to reuse, refill and recyclable solutions.”

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “People want to be able to buy products that are better for the environment and use less plastic. This fund is helping to create new packaging materials that are less harmful to the planet, as well as packaging for products that can either be refilled or easily recycled at home.

“This innovation will help us reach our goal of eliminating all avoidable plastic waste by 2024 and builds on our landmark Environment Bill which will let us introduce deposit return schemes for plastic drinks containers and make companies more responsible for the packaging they produce."