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ISCF funding available to tackle smart sustainable plastic packaging


UK businesses can apply for a share of up to £12million for practical demonstrator projects in smart and sustainable plastic packaging. This funding is from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation, will invest up to £36million from the Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Programme to demonstrate solutions to create a more circular economy for plastic packaging. This funding will be provided in three rounds, including one invitation-only competition.

Your project must also include significant industry investment.

This competition aims to invest in up to three practical demonstrators. Innovate UK are also running a feasibility studies competition, to help applicants develop proposals for later rounds under this programme.

Your project must aim to:

  • Help make the plastics packaging supply chain more circular
  • Deliver the targets of the UK Plastics Pact
  • Improve on current state-of-the-art plastic packaging, while still demonstrating practical and close-to-market solutions

Your proposal must:

  • Show how your project supports the objectives of the Pact and delivers systemic change
  • Clearly explain how you would reduce the UK plastic packaging system’s overall environmental impact

Innovate UK welcome projects across one or more of four areas:

  1. Materials.
  2. Design.
  3. Technology or process.
  4. Business model or behaviour change.

Open Date:


Close Date:


The aim of this competition is to present a portfolio of demonstrator projects. Your project must showcase close-to-market solutions that go beyond the current state-of-the-art and deliver a more circular economy for plastic packaging.

Your project must deliver on the following SSPP Challenge objectives:

  1. Unlock a significant overall increase in research and innovation (R&I) spend spend (government and industry).
  2. Deliver R&I to support more sustainable plastic packaging in line with the UK Plastics Pact targets.
  3. Increase UK plastic packaging supply chain collaboration.

You must explain how you are innovating to contribute to the UK meeting one or more of the UK Plastics Pact targets:

  1. 100% of plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable.
  2. 70% of plastic packaging effectively recycled or composted.
  3. 30% average recycled content across all plastic packaging.
  4. Take actions to eliminate problematic or unnecessary single-use packaging items through redesign, innovation or alternative (reuse) delivery models.

Your proposal must take a systems perspective, use a lifecycle approach and consider the environment impacts.

The methodology and models applied to the project should be validated and endorsed by a national and/or international agency, such as the Environment Agency in the UK or the European Environment Agency in Europe.

Specific themes

Your proposal must focus on plastic packaging as the primary application but also include one or more of the following four innovation themes.

Materials innovation, for example:

  • New, recyclable polymer materials
  • Biopolymers
  • Improving ‘compatibilisation’ (making it easier to use more recycled content)
  • Alternatives to plastics for packaging applications (such as mycelium materials to replace expanded polystyrene) where plastic is the only current option

Design innovation, for example:

  • Design for recyclability
  • Design for reuse
  • Making food delivery and other delivery packaging more recyclable
  • Marking and identification technologies to make sorting easier

Technology and process innovation, for example:

  • Reuse processes such as cleaning
  • Collection
  • Sorting and separation
  • Mechanical recycling
  • Chemical recycling
  • Anaerobic digestion (AD) or composting of compostable packaging

Business model innovation, for example:

  • Reusable packaging systems such as refill
  • Zero packaging business models and systems
  • Consumer or business behavioural change

Any UK business claiming funding must be eligible to receive state aid at the time we confirm you will be awarded funding.

All projects must be collaborative.

Your project’s total eligible costs must be between £2million and £48million.

Your project must start by 1 April 2021 and end by 31 March 2024. It can last between 12 and 36 months.

To lead a project your organisation must:

  • Be a UK-registered business of any size
  • Collaborate with other businesses, research organisations, public sector organisations or charities
  • Involve at least one micro, small or medium-sized enterprise (SME)
  • Carry out its project work in the UK
  • Intend to exploit the results from or in the UK

Academic institutions cannot lead.

To collaborate with the lead organisation your organisation must:

  • Be a UK-registered business of any size, academic institution, charity, public sector organisation or 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 to take part by the lead applicant
  • Enter its costs in the Innovation Funding Service

The lead and at least one other organisation must claim funding.

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.

Any one business can lead on one application and collaborate in a further two applications.

If a business is not leading an application, it can collaborate in up to three applications.

RTOs and academic institutions can collaborate on any number of applications.

Innovate UK have allocated up to £12million to fund innovation projects in this competition.

Organisations that are primarily engaged in commercial or economic activity (known as selective advantage) as part of the project must ensure their request for funding does not exceed the limits defined below. This includes organisations that typically act non-economically but for the purpose of this project will be undertaking commercial or economic activity.

Projects in this competition will be experimental development.

You can receive up to 25% of total eligible project costs for your experimental development project. The maximum percentage an individual partner can receive is dependent on the size of organisation as follows:

  • Up to 45% if you are a micro or small organisation
  • Up to 35% if you are a medium-sized organisation
  • Up to 25% if you are a large organisation

The research organisations in your consortium undertaking non-economic activity as part of the project can share up to 30% of the total eligible project costs. If your consortium contains more than one research organisation undertaking non-economic activity, this maximum is shared between them.

This competition provides state aid funding under Article 25, Aid for R&D, 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 which:

  • Do not have plastic packaging as the primary focus
  • Encourage or facilitate the export of plastic packaging while still classified as a waste
  • Use or manufacture either a liquid fuel or a solid fuel, such as refuse-derived fuel or solid-recovered fuel, as the primary product

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.