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UK innovators back plastic research

The UK’s innovation agency has announced five projects intended to help deliver a step change in the sustainability of plastics.

Funding of £6m (EUR 7m) will underpin the work with the aim of cutting the environmental damage that plastics cause as well as increasing their longevity in use and boosting their value. The projects will support a more sustainable plastics system and help the UK move towards a circular plastics economy.

Led by UK universities, the three-year projects will target:

  • easier recycling of multilayer food packaging, of plastics incorporated in textiles, and of plastics used in pregnancy and other medical tests
  • greener production, use and disposal of hygiene products such as disposable nappies and incontinence pads
  • the breaking down of used plastics into their chemical components for reuse in producing high-quality new plastics

Strength and diversity

The funding is delivered by UK Research and Innovation’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (£5 million) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (£1 million). EPSRC interim executive chair Miles Padgett says: ‘Harnessing the extraordinary strength and diversity of the UK’s research base, these five projects all address substantial challenges in highly innovative ways. The potential prizes are huge: achieving a circular economy for plastics will unlock a host of vital environmental and economic benefits.’

Benefits include reductions in waste and pollution, less use of virgin raw materials and a contribution towards net zero carbon emissions. In the UK, five million tonnes per year of plastic are used, with 100 billion pieces of plastic packaging thrown away. The initiative is said to reflect the need for fresh thinking to make plastics and their use more sustainable.

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