Plastic recycling projects net £30m in funding

Multiple projects exploring ways to make plastic packaging more sustainable have received £30m in funding via the Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging (SSPP) Challenge.

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Backed by UKRI, the SSPP Challenge has awarded the funds to 18 collaborative projects that support the achievement of the UK Plastics Pact and have potential to alter the UK’s relationship with plastic packaging and how it is managed. The challenge represents the largest government investment into sustainable plastic packaging and waste management to date, with the results of the two funding competitions leading to five large-scale demonstrator projects and 13 business-led research and development projects.

Nottingham University’s School of Chemistry is part of the COtoCLEAN multi-partner project led by NexTek Ltd that is developing a 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 CO2 combined with green co-solvents to remove oils, fats and printing inks.

Professor Steve Howdle, head of Nottingham’s School of Chemistry, is leading the research which involves collaboration with Unilever, Amcor, Viridor, Allied Bakeries, SUPREX and Bangor University.

“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,” Howdle said.

“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.”

Other winning projects cover a range of innovations from novel separation and sorting techniques to RFID and AI technologies to trace reusable food-grade plastic packaging, and new recycling-friendly coatings and barrier materials.