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UK initiatives to reduce pollution by plastic packaging

A new £1.4m ‘UK Circular Plastics Flagship Projects Competition’ was launched at the inaugural annual meeting of the UK Plastics Pact, held in London in October, to support creative business ideas to stop plastic being thrown away[3].

The competition, which is managed by WRAP (Waste Resources Action Programme) in partnership with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), forms part of the £20 million Plastic Research and Innovation fund (PRIF) announced in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement in 2017. The aim is to engage Britain’s best scientists and innovators in helping to move the country towards a more sustainable circular economy in plastics.

The Competition is open to UK businesses with fresh ideas to tackle the issue of plastic waste. Grants will be awarded for between £100,000 and £500,000 subject to match-funding, to support piloting and evaluation with a view to wider implementation. Projects must address four central criteria:

• reduce the total volume of plastic waste arising from the UK

• significantly improve the rate of UK plastic recycling

• reduce levels of confusion amongst citizens

• reduce the amount of plastic ending up in the world’s oceans.

Since nearly 70% of all plastic waste in the UK is packaging, new WRAP research and guidance addressing key issues around plastic packaging and the collecting and processing of post-consumer plastics were presented at the meeting, including:

• A report on design tips for making rigid plastic packaging more recyclable, including design choices to minimise environmental impacts and limit the resources needed to produce packaging.

• Updated National Recycling Guidelines on collection for recycling from UK householders, including the collection of plastic films.

• Information about composition and volume of plastic waste collected via kerbside.

• A plastic packaging flow data report (PlasticFlow 2025) detailing the current levels of UK plastic packaging placed on the market and recycled, and the potential future levels up to 2025. The report also assesses the probability of compliance with national and European recycling targets and demonstrates confidence in meeting these.

• Research on minimum thickness of plastic bottles for recycling, which found that, overall, thin packaging was no more difficult to sort and recycle than thick packaging. However, for rigid PET bottles, there was a minimum thickness of 0.05mm, but this was only present in <2% of the sample. The research confirmed that for effective sorting and recycling, a bottle should be presented as empty and flattened with the lid on.

  • Eliminate problematic or unnecessary single-use plastic packaging through redesign, innovation or alternative (re-use) delivery models.
  • 100% of plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable.
  • 70% of plastic packaging effectively recycled or composted.
  • 30% average recycled content across all plastic packaging.



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