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Food scraps could be turned into environmentally-friendly plastic packaging

Household food scraps could be transformed into environmentally-friendly plastic bags and cups, thanks to up to £60 million ($106 million) of new funding from the UK government.

Innovators are being challenged to make the UK a world-leader in creating 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 – a key part of the government’s modern Industrial Strategy.

The funding, to be bolstered by industry support, and delivered by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund could help 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; and
  • Reduce single-use plastics – increase use of recycled plastic in new products.

Businesses will be able to access this funding through UKRI-managed competitions to meet the challenge of developing smart sustainable plastic packaging. 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 also announced a strategy to help boost bioeconomy. 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 ($19.5billion) and this new innovation funding could help to boost the sector by a further £500 million ($885.1 million) a year, with the use of packaging growing due to changing consumer behaviours like the increasing popularity of online shopping.

A year since the government launched its landmark modern Industrial Strategy – the UK’s post-Brexit blueprint for the economy – this new strategy sets out a vision for the UK to build on its world-leading science and research base to become a global leader in finding innovative alternatives to fossil fuel-based products, using sources ranging from the by-products of whisky production to seaweed.This would enhance the UK’s position as beacon for investment in the bioeconomy, supporting innovation and stimulating economic growth.

“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 Claire Perry, energy and clean growth minister.

“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.”

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.

The UK is recognised as best in the world for researching solutions to tackling plastic waste and bioscience, with £140 million($247 million) already invested in sustainable plastics over the last three years.

The UK government is committed to being a global leader in tackling the issue of plastic pollution, with a world-leading ban on microbeads and a charge on single-use plastic bags, which has seen distribution by major supermarkets drop by 86 percent.

Earlier this year, it also launched its plan to ban the distribution and sale of plastic straws, drink stirrers and cotton buds to protect our rivers and seas and pledged earlier this year to introduce a deposit return scheme do drive up recycling of single-use drink containers, subject to consultation.

The UK government has also shown its global leadership by committing a £61.4 million ($108.6million) package of funding to boost global research and help countries across the Commonwealth stop plastic waste from entering the oceans in the first place.

The government is also looking at further ways to reduce avoidable waste and recycle more as part of its Resources and Waste Strategy to be published shortly.

It has also been announced, through the Strategic Priorities Fund, that a collaborative research program will boost food security by countering diseases that threaten crop production and threaten plant health. The program will be managed by UKResearch and Innovation and be delivered in phases.

Clean growth grand challenge

The Industrial Strategy sets our four grand challenges, including clean growth, to put the UK at the forefront of the industries of the future, ensuring that the UK builds on its strengths and takes advantage of major global changes, improving people’s lives and the country’s productivity.

We will maximise the advantages for UK industry from the global shift to clean growth – through leading the world in the development, manufacture and use of low carbon technologies, systems and services that cost less than high carbon alternatives.

The move to cleaner economic growth – through low carbon technologies and the efficient use of resources – is considered one of the greatest industrial opportunities of our time. By one estimate, the UK’s clean economy could grow at four times the rate of GDP, while whole new industries will be created, and existing industries transformed as the world moves towards a low carbon, more resource-efficient economy.

The Industrial Strategy

The Industrial Strategy, published last year set out how the whole of the UK can build on its strengths, extend them into the future and capitalise on new opportunities, which include:

  • Investing in science and research to keep the UK at the forefront of new technologies and the benefits they bring;
  • Nurturing the talent of tomorrow – through more outstanding schools, world-leadingUniversities and the technical skills that will drive the economy; and
  • Transforming the places where people live and work – the places where ideas and inspiration are born – by backing businesses and building infrastructure, not just across every part of the UK.

It has been taken forward at pace over the last year:

  • Innovation ideas that bring together world-class UK science, research and innovation to develop cutting edge products and services of the future have received an extra £1.7 billion ($3.1 billion), making it the largest increase for 40 years – to £7 billion ($12.4 billion). That includes £210 million ($372 million) to develop new medical diagnostic tools and treatments, £90 million ($159.4 million) for food and farming industry to embrace agri-tech and £184 million ($326 million) for 41 UK Universities to train the next generation of world-class scientists and engineers.
  • Six sector deals between government and industry have been published – from construction and automotive to nuclear and the creative industries, including £1.9 billion ($3.4 billion) of investment in life sciences and £1 billion ($1.8 billion) for artificial intelligence. They are not only about attracting investment and growth, but also ensuring we have the skilled, diverse workforce we need for the future.
  • Plans for new technical qualifications (T-levels) and to transform the quality and quantity of apprenticeships.
  • Furthered the connectivity ofBritain’s towns, cities and rural areas, including the first allocations of the£190 million($336.3 million) full-fibre challenge fund and £25 million ($44.2 million) for six 5G testbeds across the UK.
  • Opened the Transforming Cities Fund with billions of pounds ready to go to projects that drive productivity by improving connections within city regions.
  • Opened the Faraday Institution inOxford to keep the UK at the forefront of global battery manufacture.
  • Announced plans for a new spaceport in Sutherland.
  • The UK now has the fastest growing infrastructure investment across the G7, providing £31 billion ($54.9billion) of additional capital spending to areas critical to improving productivity.
  • Launched the £9 million ($15.9million) Centre of Data Ethics and Innovation to act as an advisory body to government and regulators on ethics of data and its use, including for AI.
  • Launched the Patient Capital Fund, which will invest £2.5 billion ($4.4 billion) in the UK’s most innovative companies.