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.
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.
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.”
“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.
This fund will help us tackle the scourge of plastic pollution with novel technologies and new materials & means moving from our current model of make, use and dispose to a new model where we use, we reuse and we recycle.https://t.co/j3kHX6Bvmq— Sam Gyimah MP (@SamGyimah) June 18, 2018
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.
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.
Science Minister @SamGyimah launches Plastics Research & Innovation Fund that will engage Britain's best scientists & innovators to help move the UK to a more sustainable approach to plastics #BeatPlasticPollution@UKRI_News#IndustrialStrategyhttps://t.co/g466J0hgHmpic.twitter.com/QiRm2LxYCb— Dept for BEIS (@beisgovuk) June 18, 2018
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.
“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.”
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