Plastic packaging innovations receive £30 million boost from UKRI

The Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging (SSPP) Challenge has today announced £30 million in funding for 18 groundbreaking collaborative projects.

These projects support the achievement of the UK Plastics Pact and have the potential to alter the UK’s relationship with, and management of, plastic packaging.

Largest government investment

The SSPP Challenge represents the largest government investment into sustainable plastic packaging and waste management.

The results of the two funding competitions announced today see five large-scale demonstrator projects and 13 business-led research and development projects benefit from this backing.

Each has demonstrated its value in addressing the need to transform the UK’s retail and packaging supply chains and support the development of more sustainable approaches to plastic packaging use. This is through a range of:

  • circular economy business models
  • novel polymer materials
  • new recycling technologies.

Large-scale demonstrator projects

The successful large scale demonstrator projects are focused on three key packaging challenges:

  • reuse and refill
  • food grade polypropylene recycling
  • films and flexible packaging recycling.

Refillable packaging project

Unpackaged is leading a collaborative, cross-sector refillable packaging project including in-store and home delivery.

Involving real world trials of a circular supply chain solution to scale up refill for in-store and online retail. It brings together not only major supermarkets Morrisons and Waitrose but also home delivery retailer Ocado and logistics experts CHEP, part of Brambles Ltd.

This highly ambitious and groundbreaking multi-retailer, multi-site demonstrator trial aims to tackle the challenge of single-use plastic packaging.

This is by creating an innovative system for dispensing and refilling both liquid and dry products into consumers’ own reusable containers either in-store or at home.

Return refill, repeat project

Beauty Kitchen’s major return refill, repeat project will deliver a major trial of a pre-filled and returnable packaging scheme for liquid products in partnership with:

  • RBC Group, experts in logistics and automated retail
  • environmental charity City to Sea.

Building on learning from previous smaller trials, the aim is to create behavioural change among brands, retailers, and consumers by empowering consumers to consider packaging as part of a service.

Elements of the project will include:

  • new concepts for refill stations
  • packaging leasing and pre-filled reusable containers
  • advanced return points and local bottle washing
  • tracking and analytics
  • a smart consumer app.

Other demonstrator projects

The other demonstrator projects will explore technology solutions that have the potential to significantly increase and enhance the UK’s plastics recycling capacity in challenging recycling areas such as film and food grade polypropylene. These projects are led by:

  • Plasgran Ltd
  • Fiberight Ltd
  • Impact Recycling Ltd.

Business-led research and development projects

Compostable packaging

The research and development (R&D) projects include Tipa Corp UK’s research into the economic and environmental impact of mainstreaming compostable packaging.

It will assess three established UK supply system models before developing consumer interventions and a protocol for quantifying these products at organic waste facilities. The models are:

  • closed loop food service ware
  • retail bags (repurposed as organic waste bags) and other compostables in household collections
  • flexible produce packaging in an online retailer take back scheme.

Plant-based protein concept

Xampla’s use of a plant-based protein concept aims to address the rise in plastic sachet use linked to the growing trend for home food delivery and at-home meal kits.

Working in partnership with Gusto and Britvic, the project is creating a pioneering polymer that will provide an edible and dissolvable drinks and ingredient sachet. Thereby offering a solution to what is currently the most commonly found branded plastic waste.

The other projects cover a range of innovative concepts to improve plastic packaging sustainability and support greater recycling.

From novel separation, sorting and decontamination technologies to radio frequency identification and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to trace reusable food-grade plastic packaging, and new recycling-friendly coatings and barrier materials.

Flexible packaging design testing programme

The SSPP Challenge is also announcing a major collaboration and co-funding agreement with the Circular Economy for Flexible Packaging (CEFLEX) initiative. A collaboration of over 180 European companies, associations and organisations representing the entire value chain of flexible packaging.

CEFLEX aims to make all flexible packaging in Europe circular by 2025 and the £500,000 SSPP funding will support a comprehensive testing programme for CEFLEX’s ‘designing for a circular economy’ guidelines.

The testing is designed to improve understanding regarding the sortability and mechanical recyclability of flexible packaging and to generate robust, independent and credible data to update and improve the guidelines.

Encourage and support ambition

Paul Davidson, Challenge Director for the SSPP Challenge, commented: “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.

“If successful, these projects have the potential to rewrite the relationship we all have with plastic packaging.”

Eliminate plastic waste

Resources and Waste Minister Jo Churchill said: “Plastic harms our environment and our wildlife, blighting our beaches, our streets and our rivers, which is why we want to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042.

“The government’s £30 million 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.

“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.”

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