Businesses are being offered funding by the UK government to develop techniques to turn food scraps into environmentally-friendly plastic bags and cups.
The challenge is to create sustainable packaging and reduce the impact of harmful plastics on the environment, as the UK seizes the economic opportunity of the global shift to greener, cleaner economies.
The funding of £60m is to be delivered by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, which wants to develop:
• new forms of packaging and plastic – made from farming, food and industrial waste, like sugar beet, wood chippings and food waste – moving away from oil-based plastics
• smart packaging labels – which, alongside a smart bin, could tell consumers the right bin to put recycling into and revolutionise the way recycling is sorted in waste plants
• ‘live’ sell-by-date patch – a living sell-by-date which deteriorates at the same rate as produce to show consumers when their food is going off – cutting down on food waste
• reduce single use plastics – increase use of recycled plastic in new products.
Businesses will be able to access this funding through UKRI managed competitions. This investment is subject to industry entering into partnership with government and providing significant co-investment to this challenge.
To mark the investment in sustainable plastic packaging, the government has also announced a strategy to help boost bio-economy. It sets out an ambition for world-leading standards for bio-based and biodegradable plastics, to create new sustainable materials and reduce the impact of plastics on the environment.
Last year UK sales of packaging totalled around £11 billion and this new innovation funding could help to boost the sector by a further £500 million a year, with the use of packaging growing due to changing consumer behaviours like the increasing popularity of online shopping.
Energy and Clean Growth Minister Claire Perry said: “Finding innovative solutions to tackle our use of harmful plastics which blight our land and seas is a major global challenge, and opportunity – one our nation of researchers and innovators is fit to seize.
“It is estimated there are over 150 million tonnes of plastic in the world’s oceans and every year one million birds and over 100,000 sea mammals die from eating and getting tangled in plastic waste. A recent report estimates that plastic in the sea is set to treble by 2025.”