This week, the UK’s annual Recycle Week takes place for the 18th year. The slogan this year - Step it up this Recycle Week - is aimed at ‘galvanising the public into recycling more of the right things, more often’, says WRAP, the organisers behind the event.
A strong supporter of the week is UKRI, the UK’s largest public funder of research and innovation, which includes projects relating to new plastics recycling technologies. UKRI has established the £60m Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Challenge, an amount which has been more than matched by industry funding, as a challenge for the industry to not just develop answers to their own plastic problems, but to come together for more effective and immediate solutions for the UK as a whole.
To date, UKRI has backed a variety of projects, aiming to bring novel recycling technologies and services to maturity through targeted financial support. A key feature of the projects it selects is that they must be based on collaboration between industry stakeholders.
Engineering, manufacturers and university expertise came together in ReNew ELP’s project for converting end-of-life plastics into new feedstocks that can be used to create new products. The project aims to start processing 20,000 tonnes of problem plastics a year once operational.
A similar collaborative approach has been taken by 17 partners in the ‘One bin to rule them all’ project, that aims to simplify recycling for consumers, derive value from reused plastic products, and address the wider recycling infrastructure issues. Likewise, the UKRI-backed CauliBox project is aiming to save 15 million single-use takeaway containers a year by signing up food vendors to a scheme of reusable and returnable take-away boxes. And the Evolve Packaging project will take the reuse concept further, with substantial research into the materials, technology and supply eco system required to develop a scalable, environmental and commercial solution for using plastic waste materials to form the bedrock of new products in a circular plastic economy of the future.
Paul Davidson, challenge director for UKRI’s Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging challenge, said: “The solution for plastics has never been as simple as eradicating their use completely, as they still provide valuable resources and components to a range of industries that cannot be replaced with other materials. Having seen the development and growth of some of the new innovative projects that applied for funding with UKRI, it’s great to see that many of the traditional plastics problems do have a solution on the horizon.”
He added that having a non-recyclable or reusable product in this day and age is ‘no longer acceptable’. “We will continue to support those innovators looking to change the game forever.”
UKRI has also provided funding for a number of research projects that will look into stepping up the UK’s response to its plastics problem, as well as large-scale recycling facilities across a number of key regions.