Britain’s doing pretty well at banning — or talking about banning — plastics. 

In recent months we’ve seen a ban on microbeads, and a proposed ban on plastic straws, stirrers, and cotton buds from the government. And businesses and supermarkets are also voluntarily playing their part, with the Iceland chain leading the supermarkets pack by pledging to be plastic-free on its own-brand products by 2023. 

And McDonald’s has just banned plastic straws in the UK, joining a host of other restaurants and retailers to cut them out. 

Banning single-use plastics is a great step, but the war on plastic is going to need something more: innovation in the world of sustainable alternatives. 

Take action: Call on Governments and Business Leaders to Say No to Single-Use Plastics

The UK government has just announced a fund for just that. The £20 million Plastics Research and Innovation Fund (PRIF) will support new ideas and approaches to find eco-friendly plastic alternatives. 

“There’s been incredible progress in making people aware of the danger that plastic can do to our environment and our oceans,” said science minister Sam Gyimah, announcing the fund this week. 

He said the fund will support “our best scientists and researchers … to come up with new technology and also new plastics that do not harm the environment so much.” 

Read more: UK Can Only Recycle 9% of Its Own Plastic. A New Report Says This Must Change

“This means moving from our current model of make, use, and dispose to a new model where you use, you reuse, and you recycle,” he said. 

The innovations could include things like packaging for meat and fish that doesn’t require plastic, and coffee cups that can be recycled, according to the Daily Mail. Currently, just 1 in every 400 coffee cups in the UK is recycled, because each cup contains a tightly bonded polyethylene liner that paper mills don’t currently accept. 

Coffee cups alone lead to over 30,000 tonnes of waste being thrown out each year — around 2.5 billion singe-use coffee cups’ worth. In total, according to ministers, the amount of single-use plastic we ditch each year in the UK would fill London’s Royal Albert Hall 1,000 times.

The new fund is to be managed by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and delivered via the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Innovate UK, and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), according to Business Green

Read more: This Supermarket Is Paying Shoppers to Recycle Plastic Bottles

UKRI chief executive Sir Mark Walport, said it’s “imperative we change our use and misuse of plastic” and that “this fund will help to create the range of new approaches and alternatives needed to rapidly reverse the impact that our use of plastics is having on the planet.” 

The government agencies will also reportedly work with sustainability charity Wrap, which works to achieve a circular economy, to drive initiatives across business, government, and research and innovation. 

The fund will be broken down into £2 million for a leadership and knowledge exchange initiative, £8 million to support creative research projects, and £10 million for business-led research and development. 

UK businesses working to develop new solutions to plastic pollution can also apply for a share of up to £4 million to further their work.

Read more: Adidas Sold 1 Million Shoes Made of Ocean Plastic Last Year

“We are tackling the issue of plastic waste to protect our environment for future generations,” said Exchequer secretary Robert Jenrick. “One important part of this will be backing the creation of innovative products and methods of recycling plastic.” 

Global Citizen campaigns to achieve the UN’s Global Goals, which include action on driving sustainability, life on land and life below water, and industry, innovation, and infrastructure. You can join us by taking action on these issues here


Defend the Planet

The UK Just Launched a Fund to Drive Creation of Eco-Friendly Plastics

By Imogen Calderwood