+44 (0)1509 261182

Designing sustainable plastic solutions


Competition to win funding for early-stage, human-centred design projects to reduce plastics’ harm to the environment, increase productivity and grow the UK economy.

Innovate UK, as part of UK Research and Innovation, will invest up to £800,000 to fund early-stage, human-centred design projects to reduce the harm that plastics have on our environment and to therefore increase productivity and growth of the UK economy. This funding is from the Plastic Research and Innovation Fund.

All projects awarded funding must upload evidence for each expenditure with every claim made. These might include invoices, timesheets, receipts or spreadsheets for capital usage. This is part of Innovate UK’s obligations under the Managing Public Money government handbook in relation to assurance, financial management and control.

This aim of this competition is to help businesses to create designs for innovative goods, services or business models that will result in less persistent plastic waste entering our environment. This should be achieved by them obtaining a better understanding of relevant customer and user behaviours.

Open Date:


Close Date:


This competition aims to stimulate innovation in design to reduce persistent plastic waste from landfill or entering the environment.

Your project should follow established human-centred research and design principles. It could involve working with new or existing partners, in new ways, and it must involve hands-on customer/user research as a means of informing and testing novel ideas. These ideas could include the radical re-design of existing goods, services or business models, or the design of entirely new ones which serve an existing need in a way that doesn’t rely on single-use plastic.

Here the term ‘design’ is understood broadly to include all necessary disciplines to arrive at a new design specification, and could include contributions from engineering, materials science, service design, circular design and systems thinking.

At completion, Innovate UK expect projects to deliver a well-informed and viable design concept for an innovative product, service or business model, along with actionable next steps for development and towards commercialisation.

The new designs may be for either business-to-business or business-to-consumer applications. Where possible, the new design should enable reuse or product life-extension approaches over recycling. Design and investigation of new business models and consideration of driving behaviour change are also encouraged. If the focus of your project is ‘Design for Recycling’ then the outcome must be compatible with existing recycling infrastructure and technology.

Applicants should clearly describe where revenue generation and growth will occur in the UK as a result of the innovation and its exploitation. The benefits of the new approach should be quantified as far as possible, and any assumptions regarding market size and environmental impacts described and justified.

Innovate UK are looking to fund a portfolio of projects across:

  • Sectors, including but not limited to packaging, transport, construction, healthcare, agriculture and consumer products;
  • Design disciplines including but not limited to industrial, product, user experience (UX) and service design (all with a human-centred approach)
Any UK-registered business claiming grant funding must be eligible to receive state aid at the time Innovate UK confirm you will be awarded funding. It is not possible to award grant funding to organisations meeting the condition known as undertakings in difficulty. If you are unsure please take legal advice. For further information see the general guidance on state aid.
Your project
Your project must:
  • Have total eligible costs between £20,000 and £80,000
  • Start by 1 January 2021 and end by 30 June 2021
  • Last between 3 and 6 months
Lead organisation
To lead a project or work alone your organisation must:
  • Be a UK-registered business of any size
  • Carry out its project work in the UK
  • Intend to exploit the results from or in the UK
  • Claim funding by entering their costs into the Innovation Funding Service (IFS) during the application
Academic institutions cannot lead or work alone. Find out which definition your organisation falls into. Businesses can work alone or in collaboration with project partners.
Project team
To collaborate with the lead, your organisation must:
  • Be a UK-registered business/academic institution/charity/not-for-profit/public sector organisation/research and technology organisation (RTO)
  • Carry out its project work in the UK
  • Intend to exploit the results from or in the UK
  • Be invited by the lead organisation
The lead and at least one other organisation (if a collaboration) must claim funding by entering their costs into Innovation Funding Service during the application. Each partner organisation (if a collaboration) must be invited into the Innovation Funding Service by the lead to collaborate on a project. Partners must enter their own project costs into the Innovation Funding Service. Your project can include partners that do not receive any of this competition’s funding, for example non-UK businesses. Their costs will count towards the total eligible project costs.
Subcontractors are allowed in this competition. Subcontractors can be from anywhere in the UK/European Economic Area (EEA). Innovate UK would expect subcontractor costs to be justified and appropriate to the total eligible project costs. You can use subcontractors, particularly design specialists. You can work with multiple sub-contractors on a single project.
Subcontractors can be:
  • UK-registered businesses or businesses from EEA
  • Universities
  • Research technology organisations
  • PSREs
  • Research council institutes
  • Public sector organisations
  • Charities

Sub-contractors are not partners and are paid by the grant recipient. For this competition total sub-contracting costs must not be more than 70% of the total project costs.

All sub-contractors must be named on the application form, and each must have a unique and clearly defined role within the project. Subcontractors do not submit a finance form and will not be part of the project collaboration agreement.

Multiple applications
Any one business can lead on one application and collaborate in a further two applications. If a business is not leading an application, they can collaborate in up to three applications. An academic institution can collaborate on any number of applications.
Project showcase
Applicants are expected to present and showcase the output of their project at an event and exhibition coordinated by the Knowledge Transfer Network. This will be held after the project completion date and can take the most appropriate form for your project, for example, a prototype, poster or video.

Innovate UK have allocated up to £800,000 to fund innovation projects in this competition.

If your organisation’s work on the project is mostly commercial or economic, your funding request must not exceed the limits below. These limits apply even if your organisation normally acts non-economically.

For industrial research projects, you could get funding for your eligible project costs of:

  • Up to 70% if you are a micro or small organisation
  • Up to 60% if you are a medium-sized organisation
  • Up to 50% if you are a large organisation
This competition provides state aid funding under article 25, ‘Aid for research and development projects’, of the General Block Exemption Regulation (GBER). It is your responsibility to make sure that your organisation is eligible to receive state aid.

Innovate UK are not funding projects that:

  • Develop a novel product or component which is single-use
  • Involve the production of any kind of fuel or direct energy generation from plastic waste
  • Create any form of ‘Design for Recycling’ guidance

Cresco Innovation works with companies to develop and implement innovation strategies. We help client companies identify opportunities to develop new products and services, and then create a package of support to ensure that the idea is turned into a commercial reality.

Our services include securing grants (as a team we have raised around £40million over three years), business planning, IP advice, access to finance and funders, project management and IP commercialisation support.

We regularly act as the interface with the funding bodies and help clients ensure that their projects are properly managed to ensure the best outcome for all.

Call to find out more

If you’d like to know more about this competition, please give us a call on 01509 261182 and one of our team will be delighted to help you access this funding opportunity for your business.