Funding will be used to look at ways to cut waste in the supply chain, develop new business models and create new sustainable recyclable materials.
This could include using plants, wood chippings and food waste instead of oils to make plastic, which will help reduce their carbon impact.
The Government has pledged £60m towards the initiative, while UK businesses are expected to jointly invest up to £149m.
It forms part of the Government’s Clean Growth Challenge, which includes the UK becoming the first major economy to legislate to end its contribution to global warming by 2050.
Business secretary Greg Clark said the race was on to develop new effective and practical solutions to end the “scourge of single-use plastics, helping protect our planet for future generations”.
Clark said: “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.”
Plastic packaging could triple by 2050
Around 80mt of plastic packaging was produced annually and, if left unchecked, this was expected to triple by 2050, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said. After a short first-use cycle, 95% of plastic packaging was lost to the economy, it added.
The latest initiative follows on from environment secretary Michael Gove last week declaring support for an “all-in” deposit return scheme (DRS).
In a speech at London’s Kew Gardens on 16 July, Gove suggested that the foundations of a DRS would be set out in the Government’s Environment Bill, anticipated in the autumn.
Any scheme is likely to include all polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic drinks bottles, aluminium and steel cans and glass bottles.
Manufacturers and retailers are increasingly acting on the need to shift away from single-use plastics.
Last week, Waitrose announced it was to use coloured packaging made from recycled plastic for its ready meals. Made predominantly from mixed coloured PET bottles and trays, the packaging may be a different colour every time it is produced, depending on what is being recycled.
Sainsbury’s commits to removing 10,000t
Meanwhile, Sainsbury’s has committed to removing 10,000t of plastic this year, as well as removing plastic bags from fresh fruit and vegetables and introducing water refill stands in superstores.
Judith Batchelar, director of Sainsbury’s Brand, said today’s announcement was “fantastic news” for retailers like Sainsbury’s, which were already committed to reducing single-use plastics.
“However, this is an issue that affect all retailers and manufacturer, so it’s only by working together that we can make genuine progress and significantly reduce the nation’s reliance on plastic,” she added.
“This fund will act as a catalyst for this ‘coalition of the willing’ to address the research and innovation opportunities together and Sainsbury’s is proud to play our part.”
According to BEIS, the Government’s Industrial Strategy was already backing the development of plastics made from plants, and products that degraded easily in an open environment.
Companies behind these innovations included London-based start-up Skipping Rocks Lab, which has created new packaging made from Notpla, a material made from seaweed and plants that only lasts as long as it needs to.
This material was used in a trial by Just Eat for its condiments and used as an alternative to plastic bottles at the 2019 London Marathon.
Call for evidence
As part of the announcement, the Government has also published a call for evidence on standards for bio-based and biodegradable plastics.
It seeks evidence from manufacturers, scientists and the research community, on the sustainability and wider impacts of biodegradable, compostable, and bio-based plastics. It asks whether new and improved standards and labelling for these materials would be valuable.
“Plastic pollution is a global crisis that affects our oceans and our land,” said Professor Sir Mark Walport, UK Research and Innovation chief executive.
“The new investment through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund will establish the UK as a leading innovator in smart and sustainable plastic packaging, delivering cleaner growth across the supply chain, with a dramatic reduction in plastic waste entering the environment by 2025.”
The consultation closes on 14 October.
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