Government launches £60m green plastic packaging challenge

New innovation challenge to drive development of waste-to-plastic materials and smart packaging breakthroughs

The government has announced the launch of a new £60m innovation challenge, designed to accelerate the development of greener plastic packaging.

The programme will be delivered through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund and is earmarked to support the development of new forms of packaging and plastic, smart packaging labels, and the wider use of recycled materials.

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The government said the funding would be administered through the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) agency, which will run a series of managed competitions. Funding will be awarded on a co-investment basis, with businesses expected to provide "significant co-investment" in support of the challenge.

The funding was announced today alongside the news the government is to develop a wider strategy to help boost the bioeconomy. The Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy said the aim was to set 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".

It added that the new strategy and research funding could deliver a major boost to the economy, while also curbing environmental impacts. Last year UK sales of packaging totalled around £11bn and the new innovation funding could help to boost the sector by a further £500m a year, according to government estimates.

"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," said energy and clean growth minister Claire Perry. "Today's funding and sector strategy enhances our position as a global leader on improving our environment and tackling climate change. It will make us a beacon for design, manufacturing and exporting of sustainable plastics and environmentally-friendly replacements for polluting products as we move to a greener, cleaner economy - a key part of our modern Industrial Strategy."

The government is hoping the funding could help accelerate development in a wide range of areas, including bioplastics made from food scraps and other waste materials, smart labels that extend the life of food stuffs or tell people how it should be disposed, and new recyclable materials and alternatives to single use packaging.

Read about how the University of Bath are working on a project to enable plastics to be recycled together, here.