New £8 million research projects to re-think plastics production and use

Supplementary content information

Aerial photo of a large amount of plastic waste

UKRI Press Release

Eight new research projects that will explore new and different ways of making, using and recycling plastics were announced today by the Science Minister, Chris Skidmore.

The researchers will investigate alternatives to fossil-based materials for plastics, as well as looking into the complex factors involved in the life cycle of plastic materials, from consumers' and business' needs and behaviours, to how to use technology to reclaim or break down plastics.

Through the recently published Bioeconomy Strategy, part of the modern Industrial Strategy, the government has identified producing less carbon intensive products, including plastics, as a key challenge area alongside reducing plastic waste. This will lead to a circular economy where greater emphasis is placed on 'use, reuse and recycle'.

Science Minister, Chris Skidmore said: We have all seen the devastating effects that plastics waste has on our environment, threatening the biodiversity of our oceans and introducing micro-plastics into the food chain.

We are committed to tackling this problem, from developing a plastic-eating bacteria to finding new ways to recycle.  These projects have the potential to lead us to a cleaner, greener economy but also ensure the UK is at the forefront of the latest innovations and products that will be in high demand across the world through our modern Industrial Strategy.

The announcement comes on the day that the government has unveiled its Resources and Waste Strategy. Among other initiatives, the Strategy puts the legal onus on producers of damaging waste, introduces a consistent set of recyclable materials collected from all households and businesses, and introduces a deposit return scheme, subject to consultation, to increase the recycling of single-use drinks containers.

The eight, far-reaching projects are based at single higher education institutions and are multidisciplinary collaborations that will bring new thinking to the plastics challenge. The projects commence in early 2019 and include:

  • Designing-out Plastic Waste, led by University College London, which will create a new bacteria-based recycling technology for plastics that will consume plastics, breaking them down into reusable material. A new Plastics Waste Innovation Hub will also be created at the University, bringing together researchers and businesses to consider new and innovative methods to recycle plastics.
  • Evolving a circular plastics economy led by the University of Hull, will seek to develop biodegradable biopolymers, meaning the plastics will not persist in the environment and can be repurposed following disposal and breakdown.
  • RE3 - Rethinking Resources and Recycling led by The University of Manchester will develop graphene membrane filters for the removal of micro-plastics in water and a new chemical-method of recycling contaminated and mixed soft plastic materials.

The projects were successful in the Creative Circular Economy Approaches to Eliminate Plastics Waste competition, and are among the first to be funded through the Plastics Research Innovation Fund (PRIF).

The Fund, managed by UK Research and Innovation, is engaging Britain's best scientists and innovators to help move the country towards more circular economic and sustainable approaches to plastics.

It is delivered via the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Innovate UK, with strategic oversight from Professor Duncan Wingham, Executive Chair of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Professor Duncan Wingham, UK Research and Innovation's Lead for the Plastics Research Innovation Fund and Executive Chair of the Natural Environment Research Council, said: These eight multidisciplinary research projects will lead the way in finding new solutions to our current use of plastics, through recycling methods and developing alternative materials. UKRI is drawing UK researchers together with companies to address the challenge of reducing plastic waste entering the environment and creating an economy that is free from plastic waste.

This follows the recent government announcement confirming that £60m through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund will research more sustainable packaging being produced. The specific aim of one of the projects will seek to create new forms of packaging and plastic made from farming, food and industrial waste, moving away from oil-based plastics.

The projects are:

  • Exeter Multidisciplinary Plastics Research hub: ExeMPLaR
    University of Exeter - led by Professor Peter Hopkinson
  • RE3 - Rethinking Resources and Recycling
    The University of Manchester - led by Professor Lin Li
  • Designing-out Plastic Waste
    University College London - led by Professor Mark Miodownik
  • Evolving a circular plastics economy
    University of Hull - led by Professor Carl Redshaw and Dr Pauline Deutz
  • UKRI Circular Economy Approaches to Eliminate Plastic Waste
    University of Cambridge - led by Professor Erwin Reisner
  • Advancing Creative Circular Economies for Plastics via Technological-Social Transitions (ACCEPT Transitions)
    Queen's University of Belfast - led by Professor David Rooney
  • Plastics: Redefining Single-Use
    University of Sheffield - Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures - led by Professor Anthony Ryan
  • Holistic integration of technology, design and policy for a greener plastic future
    Imperial College London - led by Professor Jason Hallett

Notes to editors:

Plastics and Research Innovation Fund

The £20 million Plastics and Research Innovation Fund (PRIF) was announced by the Chancellor during the Autumn Statement in 2017. The fund is managed on behalf of UKRI by EPSRC and Innovate UK, with strategic oversight from Professor Duncan Wingham, Executive Chair of the Natural Environment Research Council. UKRI is working with WRAP to ensure coordinated leadership of the fund. PRIF will help to create new approaches and alternatives needed to rapidly reverse the impact that our use of plastics is having on the planet. The Fund is expected to enhance strategic leadership and coordination of existing knowledge across the UK; catalysing new ideas and rapid solutions across the research and innovation landscape.

UK Research and Innovation is a new body which works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish. We aim to maximise the contribution of each of our component parts, working individually and collectively. We work with our many partners to benefit everyone through knowledge, talent and ideas.

Operating across the whole of the UK with a combined budget of more than £7 billion, UK Research and Innovation brings together the Arts and Humanities Research Council; Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council; Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council; Economic and Social Research Council; Innovate UK; Medical Research Council; Natural Environment Research Council; Research England; and Science and Technology Facilities Council.

Reference: PN 79-18

Contact Details

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Name: EPSRC Press Office
Telephone: 01793 444404