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Plastic bag floating in the ocean with seaweed

Government and industry pool ‘record’ investment to cut plastic waste

Image credit: Dreamstime

The UK Government has pledged tens of millions of pounds in public funding towards measures designed to reduce plastic waste, including development of new forms of packaging.

The government hopes that its £60m research fund, announced in December 2018, will be boosted with joint contributions of £149m from industrial partners like Unilever. According to Business Secretary Greg Clark, this is a “record level of research and development investment”. The funding will be used to find ways to cut waste in supply chains and create new sustainable materials.

Approximately 80 million tonnes of plastic packaging is produced annually, and this figure is expected to triple by 2050. According to Plastic Oceans, approximately half of annual plastic production is destined for single-use products like shopping bags and plastic bottles.

A 5p charge on plastic bags in supermarkets and large stores introduced in October 2015 reduced use bags by almost 90 per cent. In January 2018, outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May announced that ‘avoidable’ plastic waste would be eliminated by 2042, a target criticised by opposition parties and environmental campaign groups as unambitious.

“We have all seen the enormous damage being caused by single-use plastics across the world,” said Greg Clark. “The race is on to develop new effective and practical solutions to end the scourge of single-use plastics, helping protect our planet for future generations.”

“This government and business co-investment clearly demonstrates that when it comes to cutting plastics pollution there is a shared ambition. This is a unique opportunity for our world-leading businesses and innovators to develop the materials of the future with the potential to transform our economy as well as our environment.”

The fund, which could top £200m in total, will be partially used to develop new forms of packaging made from plant oils, wood chippings, and food waste. For instance, London-based Skipping Rocks Lab has used seaweed and other plants to create a type of packaging, Notpla, that was deployed as an edible alternative to plastic bottles at this year’s London Marathon. The government also published a call for evidence from scientists, manufacturers, and other experts on standards for these bio-based and biodegradable plastics.

In a statement, UK Research and Innovation CEO Professor Sir Mark Walport commented: “Plastic pollution is a global crisis that affects our oceans and our land. The new investment through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund will establish the UK as a leading innovator in smart and sustainable plastic packaging solutions, delivering cleaner growth across the supply chain, with a dramatic reduction in plastic waste entering the environment by 2025.”

Meanwhile, businesses will be encouraged to cut plastic waste from their operations. Sainsbury’s has committed to removing 10,000 tonnes of plastic this year, and removed plastic bags from fresh fruit and vegetable aisles in some stores.

Speaking in a statement, Judith Batchelar, director of Sainsbury’s Brand said: “The plastics challenge is one of the greatest issues for our planet, so today’s announcement is fantastic news for retailers like Sainsbury’s that are already committed to reducing single-use plastics.”

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