The UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) Plastics Research and Innovation Fund (PRIF) programme January 2018 – June 2020 commissioned 8 UK Higher Education Institutions (HEi) to research creative circular economy solutions to eliminate plastic wastes. Each HEI adopted their own research programmes based on their research strengths, had its own consortia of industrial, policy and wider stakeholders and were encouraged to collaborate and share learning between research groups. A small sample of early stage findings, outcomes and solutions were presented at a 2-day digital conference in July 2020, supported by summaries published in this report.

The intention of the £20 million Plastics Research and Innovation Fund, being delivered by UKRI, is to create a coordinated, integrated and aligned community of stakeholders from across academia, industry and government to catalyse new ideas and rapid solutions across the research and innovation landscape that are conceived to deliver a positive environmental benefit compared with current systems in both the short and long-term. The overall goal is to support the delivery of the Government’s target of achieving zero avoidable plastic waste by end of 2042, within the context of the UK’s commitment to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

The three streams of activities being delivered are:

  • Leadership and knowledge exchange: a UK Circular Plastics Network
  • Research: Plastics ‘Creativity’ funding
  • Business led research and development: Plastics ‘Innovation’ funding

This PRIF Research Conference brought together the eight academic projects funded in 2018 through the ‘UK Research and Innovation Call for Proposals: ‘Creative Circular Economy Approaches to Eliminating Plastic Waste’. These eight projects address a small section of plastics uses and its impacts within the UK. However, the solutions they have been researching have the potential for significant impact, including contributing to system-level change within this vitally important industrial sector. This conference itself, and the work highlighted in this report, demonstrates the exciting way in which researchers from many disciplines, and across universities have come together in new ways to address the challenge.

This publication contains the final edited papers, followed by a synthesis discussion and steps forward. The sections of the publication focus on Plastic Sustainability Challenges, Perceptions & Misconceptions of ‘The Plastics Problem’, Fossil and Bio-sourced Plastics, Recycling, Business & Social Models, and Supply Chains and Behaviour Change.

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