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Sustainable plastic packaging innovations receive boost with new funding

Sustainable plastic packaging innovations receive boost with new funding

Research into new sustainable ways to decontaminate plastic packaging for recycling has been given a boost with funding from UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging (SSPP) Challenge. 

The University of Nottingham project is part of £30 million in funding awarded today to 18 groundbreaking collaborative projects that support the achievement of the UK Plastics Pact and have the potential to alter the UK’s relationship with, and management of, plastic packaging. 

The SSPP Challenge represents the largest Government investment into sustainable plastic packaging and waste management, and the results of the two funding competitions announced today leading to 5 large-scale demonstrator projects and 13 business-led research and development projects benefit from this backing. 

Each has demonstrated its value in addressing the need to transform the UK’s retail and packaging supply chains and support the development of more sustainable approaches to plastic packaging use through a range of circular economy business models, novel polymer materials and new recycling technologies. 

The University of Nottingham’s School of Chemistry is part of the COtoCLEAN multi-partner project led by NexTek Ltd that is developing a disruptive waterless, non-toxic cleaning process for polyolefin films that are commonly used for packaging edible and non-edible goods. The process is based on using low-pressure super-critical CO_2  (scCO_2 ) combined with green co-solvents to remove oils, fats and printing inks. 

Professor Steve Howdle, Head of School of Chemistry at the University of Nottingham is leading the research that is being undertaken in collaboration with Unilever, Amcor, Viridor, Allied Bakeries, SUPREX and Bangor University. 

Professor Howdle commented: "Plastic film waste is one of the world’s biggest environmental challenges as these materials are some of the most difficult plastics to recycle yet are produced and used in huge quantities each year. Using Nottingham’s  expertise in supercritical carbon dioxide,  the COTooCLEAN project aims to deliver a revolutionary commercial process that can efficiently and sustainably decontaminate post-consumer plastic film  with the aim to get them back to  food grade status so that they might be recycled."

The other projects cover a range of innovative concepts to improve plastic packaging sustainability and support greater recycling, from novel separation and sorting to RFID and AI technologies to trace reusable food-grade plastic packaging, and new recycling-friendly coatings and barrier materials. 

Paul Davidson, Challenge Director for UKRI’s SSPP Challenge, commented: “The key to the design and development of this funding competition, along with fostering cross-supply chain collaboration, is to encourage and support ambition at a scale that matches the size of the plastic packaging problem. If successful, these projects have the potential to rewrite the relationship we all have with plastic packaging.” 

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