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£1.4M Prize Awaits UK Circular Plastics Flagship Projects

Image credit: Ellen MacArthur Foundation

A new £1.4 million flagship projects competition was launched at the inaugural annual meeting for members of The UK Plastics Pact, held in London yesterday.

The competition, managed by WRAP in partnership with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), was one of several special announcements made at the Summit. This competition — which forms part of the £20 million Plastic Research and Innovation Fund (PRIF) announced by the Chancellor during the Autumn Statement in 2017 — aims to engage Britain's best scientists and innovators to help move the country towards a more circular economy and sustainable approaches to plastics.

Under the UK Circular Plastics Flagship Projects Competition, grants will be awarded to applicants who demonstrate creative business ideas to reduce the environmental impacts of plastic, and which bring greater circularity in the use of plastic.

As Professor Duncan Wingham, Executive Chair of the Natural Environment Research Council and PRIF lead for UKRI, explained; “The Plastics Research Innovation Fund brings the strength of UK Research and Innovation’s entire portfolio, from environment to technology to business to behaviour and regulation, to bear on the pressing and very widely recognised problem of plastic waste. We are partnering with WRAP as experts in this sector, to join up our approach and support for the UK plastics and packing sector. The UK Circular Plastics Flagship Projects Competition launching today complements our recent funding calls by working with businesses to implement new ideas to achieve the targets set out in the UK Plastics Pact.”

“We’ve all seen heart-breaking images of sea creatures struggling to breathe due to plastic pollution and the Blue Planet’ effect has made it impossible to forget that plastics are a growing threat to our planet,” said Science, Research and Innovation Minister Sam Gyimah. “Our ambition to clean up our environment has never been more clear on the eve of our first-ever Green GB Week, and we are committed to exploring all methods to move from a use and dispose economy to use, reuse and recycle. Programmes like the Plastics and Research Innovation Fund give innovators the chance to develop creative fixes for one of our biggest global challenges.”

The Competition is open to any UK business with fresh ideas to tackle the issue of plastic waste. Grants will be awarded for between £100,000 and £500,000, subject to match-funding, to support the piloting and evaluation with a view to wider implementation.

Businesses wishing to apply must consider projects in relation to the four central criteria: 

Other highlights from the Summit

The 2018 UK Plastics Pact Summit was the first meeting of Pact members since the programme launched in April, with more than 150 delegates from across the supply chain attending.

WRAP Chief Executive Marcus Gover highlighted key activities WRAP has coordinated over the first six months of the UK Plastics Pact, with industry speakers from across the plastic chain sharing innovations made to address common issues in plastic use.

"I am delighted at the speed and level of commitment from The UK Plastics Pact in turning our ambition into action,” Gover said. “We are on our journey to totally transforming the plastic system in the UK and tackling the urgent problem of plastic pollution. This starts with innovation, and I am delighted that we were able to announce the crucial support from partners like UKRI in funding new research opportunities.

“We have the collective will, from government, from business, and from all of us as citizens to lead the global fight against plastic pollution and change our relationship with plastic for good, forever. Together we are.”

New WRAP research and guidance were introduced that address key issues around plastic packaging, and with the collecting and processing of post-consumer plastics. They include:

  1. Design tips for making rigid plastic packaging more recyclable: Produced in association with RECOUP, this provides and highlights priority issues reported by those sorting and reprocessing rigid plastic packaging, together with solutions. The guide will help to ensure that packaging design choices minimise environmental impacts, limit the resources needed to produce packaging and ensure that packaging is recyclable. 
  2. Updated National Recycling Guidelines: WRAP’s definitive national guidance on what can and cannot be collected for recycling from UK householders has been expanded to include a new section dedicated to the collection of plastic films.
  3. Composition of plastic waste collected curbside: This report details compositional analysis of plastics received and produced by UK Material Recovery Facilities and Plastic Recovery Facilities. It provides an up-to-date estimate on the volume and type of post-consumer plastic packaging collected for recycling. The report underpins The UK Plastics Pact work to drive forward changes in polymer choice, plastic collections and sorting, and reprocessing.
  4. PlasticFlow 2025 — Plastic Packaging Flow Data Report: WRAP’s PlasticFlow 2025 details the current levels of UK plastic packaging placed on the market and recycled, and potential future levels up to 2025. The report also assesses the probability of compliance with national and European recycling targets and demonstrates confidence in meeting these.
  5. Minimum thickness of plastic bottles to be recycled: This research assessed the impact of light-weighting plastic bottles on the sorting and recycling stages. It concluded that, overall, thin packaging was no more difficult to sort and recycle than thick packaging. 

“Yesterday, the first UK Plastics Pact summit showed that people power is transforming how industry uses plastics in the UK,” said Iain Gulland, Chief Executive at Zero Waste Scotland, who attended the event. “Consumer calls for action are behind retailers,’ brands’ and manufacturers commendable efforts — which I heard about yesterday — to tackle the overuse of packaging and single-use plastics in our stores, with growing evidence that shoppers are firmly turning away from products that they perceive as having unnecessary packaging.

“By working together, through initiatives like the Plastics Pact, we can get our use of plastics, and all forms of packaging, back under control.”

The Summit was also a chance for delegates to focus on future work under The UK Plastics Pact, with a draft of the forthcoming UK Plastics Pact Roadmap shared ahead of publication. This sets out the key actions and intermediate milestones businesses, and other members, will need to achieve to deliver each target by 2025*, as well as highlighting the challenges ahead. Once finalised, Pact members and supporters should embed the Roadmap milestones into their corporate and organisational targets.

The Roadmap is due to be published later this year, and will also inform action by Governments, funders, investors, NGOs and businesses who are not members of The UK Plastics Pact.

*Nearly 70% of all plastic waste in the UK is packaging, which is the focus of The UK Plastics Pact.


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