Enabling Research in Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging

Plastics have revolutionised the way we live. For many consumer products, it is the plastic packaging that ensures quality, longevity and safety. However, the volume and durability of plastic packaging has significant consequences and the UK needs to urgently address growing concern about the environmental, social and economic impact of the use of plastic packaging and its disposal post-consumption.

Plastic is likely to continue to have an important role as a packaging material in everyday consumer items; the challenge is to find ways to ensure the plastic packaging we use is easily recyclable, can be used multiple times, and is not released to the environment.

The SSPP Challenge aims to establish the UK as a leading innovator in smart and sustainable plastic packaging for consumer products, delivering cleaner growth across the supply chain, with a significant reduction in plastic waste entering the environment by 2025.

The purpose of this Enabling Research call is to support research that addresses widely understood problems in relation to plastic packaging, whose solutions are unknown today, but which if solved, will unlock existing barriers to fundamental systems change, and make an important contribution to achieving the objectives of the Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging (SSPP) Challenge.

With investments from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) are working with the academic community, businesses and innovators to drive the transition to smart sustainable plastics.

Briefing Webinar: Enabling Research in Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging

4 Feb 2020

UKRI will host a webinar 11:00 – 12:30 on Monday 10 February 2020 to support the funding opportunity for Enabling Research in Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging.


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Background and objectives

Since they were invented in the early 20th Century synthetic plastics have been revolutionary; they have changed the way we live and are now an essential part of everyday life and embedded in the global economy. Plastic packaging for consumer goods such as cosmetics, food, drink, toiletries, cleaning and healthcare products assures authenticity, quality and safety.

Annual global production of plastic now exceeds 300M tonnes, and this is expected to triple by 2050. In the EU, the plastics sector employs 1.5 million people and generated a turnover of EUR 340 billion in 2015. However, the ubiquity and durability of plastic packaging has significant consequences and the UK needs to urgently address growing concern about the environmental impact of plastics in packaging. Plastics use has a number of negative features that need to be addressed to create a more sustainable economy:

  • Reliance on CO2 producing fossil feedstocks: over 90% of plastics produced are derived from virgin fossil fuels, representing about 6% of global oil consumption. If the current strong growth of plastics usage continues as expected the plastics sector will account for 20% of total oil consumption and 15% of the global annual carbon budget by 2050.
  • Energy requirements for plastics production: the processes of oil refining, cracking and polymerisation of monomers are estimated to account for over 95% of the total energy consumed in plastics production.
  • 95% of plastic packaging material value, $80-120 billion annually, is lost to the economy after a short first use via landfill, incineration or the environment.
  • Significant environmental and human health impacts: each year at least 8 million tonnes of plastics leak into the ocean threatening marine wildlife, this is expected to quadruple by 2050. The potential for contamination of the human food chain also presents human health hazards.
  • Negative social and economic impacts are increasingly arising from the generation of significant volumes of plastic waste, littering and inappropriate waste disposal.

The plastic packaging value chain is highly complex and fragmented. The proliferation of materials, formats, labelling, brand identity, collection schemes, and sorting and reprocessing systems are significant barriers to plastic packaging dematerialisation.

Opportunities exist to radically transform the UK’s existing linear manufacturing and consumption pattern.

SSPP Challenge Background

The SSPP Challenge is funded by the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF), the UK Government’s flagship challenge-led innovation programme. The ISCF is a collective fund across UK Research & Innovation (UKRI), aiming to bring together the UK’s world-leading research base and our most innovative businesses, to solve the major industrial and societal challenges of our time.

The aim of the SSPP Challenge is:

To establish the UK as a leading innovator in smart and sustainable plastic packaging for consumer products, delivering cleaner growth across the supply chain, with a significant reduction in plastic waste entering the environment by 2025.

The SSPP Challenge seeks to deliver sustainable environmental, societal and/or economic benefits. Aligned to the Government’s Clean Growth Grand Challenge and ISCF objectives, the SSPP Challenge seeks to make a significant contribution to the UK target of 2.4% of GDP in R&I spend, with SSPP innovation recognised internationally as a UK strength, and source of export growth and inward investment.

The SSPP Challenge has three workstreams, as follows: 

  • Core Programme: Up to £2 million available that will deliver leadership and foster collaboration between industry, academia and government by convening and commissioning workshops and networking activity, and collecting, synthesising and disseminating results from across the SSPP work streams. 
  • Enabling Research: Up to £8m available for a series of grants to establish a balanced portfolio of academic-led research and development to address known problems and knowledge gaps in relation to plastic packaging, working with project partners and actors from across the supply chain, where relevant.
  • Dynamic and Collaborative R&D: Up to £50m available funding of industry-led multi-disciplinary Collaborative R&D (CR&D) projects, and multi-partner consortia scale-up and deployment of demonstrators to develop new technologies at scale and support their adoption by industry.

A number of funding opportunities for Collaborative R&D projects are currently open for applications. Find out more about funding.

Enabling Research Background

The aim of the Enabling Research workstream is to support research that addresses widely understood problems in relation to plastic packaging, whose solutions are unknown today, but which if solved will unlock existing barriers to fundamental systems change, and make an important contribution to achieving the objectives of the SSPP Challenge.

The specific SSPP programme objectives that apply to the Enabling Research workstream are:

  1. To deliver innovative R&I to support more sustainable plastic packaging in line with the UK UK Plastics Pact targets.
  2. To increase UK plastic packaging supply chain collaboration in order to improve sustainability.
  3. To increase understanding of environmental impacts of existing and new plastic packaging to inform new and improved design, technologies and processes.
  4. To increase understanding of behaviour on the sustainability of plastic packaging to inform new and improved design, technologies, processes and business models.

The SSPP Challenge requires research questions and research outputs to be framed in the context of their impact on activities and environmental consequences across the plastic packaging supply chain.

Applicants are encouraged to engage with the business community and third sector organisations and draw upon relevant expertise from across the arts and humanities, engineering, environmental and social sciences to co-create research questions and to consider implications and outcomes for relevant actors across the plastics supply chain.

Timing

2020 – 2024

Projects with the maximum duration of 36 months are expected to start from 1 November 2020 and must be complete by the end of the SSPP Challenge on 31 March 2024.

Can I apply for a grant?

A call for proposals is now open with the closing date for outline proposals on 17 March 2020.

Further information on the call and how to submit an application can be found in the Announcement of Opportunity document (PDF, 389KB).

Budget

This call has a budget of up to £8 million.