Single-use plastics: the problems R&D faces in reducing plastic waste 2018-04-27T14:29:16+01:00
r&d and plastic pollution

The damage caused by plastic pollution

Since the global response to the final episode of BBC’s Blue Planet II, in which the damaging effect of plastics on our environment was brought into sharp relief, businesses have been charged with finding alternatives to this material.

The Prime Minister and the EU have both vowed to clean up Europe’s act, with Brussels aiming to make all plastics recyclable or reusable by 2030. Britain’s target, meanwhile is 2042. A cool €350m is set to be invested into research and development projects attempting to make this achievable. This figure is indicative of the fact that reducing plastic waste isn’t an easy task. With more than eight million tonnes of plastic entering the world’s seas each year, there’s a huge amount to do to meet the targets.

The issues being faced

Of course, research and development is necessary to find sustainable solutions to the problem. As one of the global leaders in innovation, the UK has already introduced more lightweight packaging to the market; for example, PET plastic bottles are 30% lighter than 15 years ago, and plastic products are compiled of more recycled material than ever before. But this is far from the required long-term fix.

One issue is that simply swapping plastics for biodegradable materials isn’t as easy as it sounds. While bioplastic production currently accounts for around 1% of total global plastics production, rolling it out on a large scale could impact the already high proportion of food waste that occurs. This in turn affects CO2, water and land use, meaning biodegradable packaging has the potential to increase the effects of a wider environmental problem.

Then there’s the question of recycling. Although the amount of plastics recycled in the UK has increased in recent years, the use of plastics is sensitive to global commodity plastic prices, and therefore to those of oil and gas. This can mean huge fluctuations in the profit margins of recyclers, leading them, in some cases, to close. This makes sustaining a circular economy in packaging extremely difficult.

So how will R&D help?

Innovation is required to ensure the supply chain is more efficient, and this may result in regulations around, for example, the minimum amount of recycled content in packaging. Research and development can be done in several areas including:

  • Discovering techniques to better separate plastics
  • Testing ways to upscale bioplastics without impacting food production
  • Developing new biodegradable materials that meet the same demands as plastic

By tackling some of these issues, R&D will begin to help to solve the bigger plastics problem – and the reward for doing so will make research into this area an attractive proposition. Not only will companies have a chance to help positively impact the environment, but increase in tax relief available for such projects is also an incentive.

How much could businesses claim?

Depending on the size of a business, how much is invested in R&D, and the objectives of the project, a significant reduction in corporation tax could be attained from research into cutting plastic waste. For an estimate in how much relief your company could benefit from, take a look at our HMRC R&D tax credit calculator.

Average R&D tax claim is £56,000

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