Research agency unveils winners of sustainable packaging competition, which it says aim to ‘alter the UK’s relationship with plastic’

A flurry of green packaging innovations and plastic waste management projects have won a share of £30m from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

The companies and schemes that have today secured government funding aim to test and scale a range of measures which UKRI said had the potential to alter the UK’s relationship with plastic, from scaling new circular business models and developing novel polymer materials to pioneering new recycling technologies.

Those snapping up funding include recycling company Plasgran, which aims to mechanically recycle used food-contact packaging back into food-grade packaging material. If successful, the ‘Cleanstream’ process would be the “world’s first” economically viable process to separate post-consumer non-food polypropylene packaging and food-contact polypropylene packaging, according to the firm.

A separate project led by Impact Recycling, meanwhile, has secured funding to demonstrate its proprietary wet, density-based separation technology – dubbed the ‘Baffled Oscillation Separation System – which it claims can separate monolayer plastic material into constituent layers so it can then be recycled into high-quality consumer grade plastic packaging.

And a cross-sector collaboration bringing together supermarkets Morrisons and Waitrose, home delivery retailer Ocado, and logistics experts CHEP, has secured funding to test a new system for dispensing and refilling both liquid and dry products into consumers’ own reusable containers, both in store and at home.

Overall, five large-scale demonstrator projects have secured funding, in addition to 13 business-led research and development projects spanning a range of concepts to improve the sustainability and recycling of plastic packaging, including through novel separation, sorting and decontamination technologies, RFID and AI technologies to trace reusable food-grade plastic packaging, and new recycling-friendly coatings and barrier materials.

They will all share in funding from the £30m pot, which accounts for half of the total funding allocated to the government agency’s Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging (SSPP) challenge, UKRI said.

UKRI’s SSPP challenge director Paul Davidson said the finalist projects had the potential to “rewrite the relationship we all have with plastic packaging”.

“The key to the design and development of this funding competition, along with fostering cross-supply chain collaboration, is to encourage and support ambition at a scale that matches the size of the plastic packaging problem,” he said.

The funding competitions, launched last year, are specifically aimed at supporting the goals the UK government has committed to meet under the Plastic Pact spearheaded by resources charity WRAP. The Pact sets a goal for all plastics packaging to be reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025, with all “unnecessary single-use packaging” eliminated from the plastics value chain altogether.

Resources and Waste Minister Jo Churchill said the latest investments would support the government’s aim to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042.

“The government’s £30m investment targets innovative projects to create packaging that can be refilled, more easily recycled, and made of materials that are far more sustainable for our natural environment,” she said.  “We must all do more to tackle problem plastics and, through our landmark Environment Act, we will create deposit return schemes for drinks containers and encourage more recyclable packaging so that we can go further to reduce, reuse and recycle more of our waste.”

Meanwhile, the SSPP has also announced a major collaboration and co-funding agreement with the Circular Economy for Flexible Packaging (CEFLEX) initiative, which brings together more than 180 European companies, associations and organisations across the flexible plastic value chain.

SSPP said it would provide £500,000 to support a comprehensive testing programme for new circular economy guidelines being developed by CEFLEX, which aims to make all flexible packaging in Europe circular by 2025.

Want to help celebrate and showcase the best of the green economy? You can now enter the BusinessGreen Leaders Awards 2022 and be in with a chance of joining us at the UK’s largest and most prestigious green business awards this summer.

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