Plastic made from plants on horizon as government launches £60 million development fund

Sarah Knapton
The world is suffering a global crisis caused by plastic pollution, the government has warned  - BBC Blue Planet 

Plastic made from food waste and plants is on the horizon after the government announced £60 million in funding to develop biodegradable packaging to prevent pollution.

Around 80 million tonnes of plastic packaging is produced globally each year and if left unchecked the amount is expected to triple by 2050. 

But 95 per cent is binned after just one use with much ending up in landfill or the oceans where it breaks down and is ingested by wildlife.

Today the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BEIS)  announced research and development funding to help scientists and companies find alternatives to single-use, non-biodegradable materials, such as using plants instead of oils to make plastic.

Some companies are well on the way to developing new packaging, such as London-based start-up Skipping Rocks Lab who have invented a material made from seaweed and plants that biodegrades in just four to six weeks.

The new material was recently used in a trial by Just Eat for their condiments and as an alternative to plastic bottles at the London Marathon 2019. 

Business Secretary Greg Clark said: “We have all seen the enormous damage being caused by single-use plastics across the world.  

“The race is on to develop new effective and practical solutions to end the scourge of single use plastics, helping protect our planet for future generations.

“This is a unique opportunity for our world-leading businesses and innovators to develop the materials of the future with the potential to transform our economy as well as our environment.”

This month the Telegraph launched a Zero Waste campaign to encourage manufacturers to cut down on single-use plastic and make it easier for people to recycle. 

Consumer pressure has seen brands increasingly shift away from non-recyclable packaging. 

Today Sainsbury’s announced the removal of all plastic bags for loose fruit and vegetables in Lincoln and Kidlington stores and will roll out the scheme nationwide if successful. 

Customers will have the option of bringing their own containers into store or purchasing

a reusable drawstring bag made from recycled materials for 30p. Judith Batchelar, Director of Sainsbury’s Brand comments: “We’re pleased to be making a further commitment to our customers as we work with them to offer new ways to reduce unnecessary plastic.

"This is just one of the efforts we are making as a business and we look forward to hearing how our customers respond and adapt throughout the trial.”

The trial will run into August and follows a range of initiatives the company has launched as part of its efforts to reduce, reuse, replace and recycle more plastic.

Sainsbury’s most recently launched water refill stations at over 300 stores across the UK as well as a series of Reverse Vending Recycling trials, which allow customers to return plastic bottles of any size up to three litres and drinks cans bought from Sainsbury’s in exchange for 5p coupons towards their shop.

The new £60 million R&D investment is the largest ever made for a single project and the government is expecting the private sector to also invest £149 million to find packaging alternatives. 

UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Sir Mark Walport said: “Plastic pollution is a global crisis that affects our oceans and our land. 

“The new investment will establish the UK as a leading innovator in smart and sustainable plastic packaging solutions, delivering cleaner growth across the supply chain, with a dramatic reduction in plastic waste entering the environment by 2025.”