Funding competition ISCF smart sustainable plastic packaging: feasibility studies for demonstrators

UK businesses can apply for a share of up to £700,000 to develop proposals for practical demonstrator projects in smart and sustainable plastic packaging. This funding is from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

This competition is now closed.

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Competition sections


Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation, will invest up to £36 million from the Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Programme to demonstrate solutions that create a more circular economy for plastic packaging. This funding will be provided in 3 rounds. Your project must also include significant industry investment.

We are funding feasibility studies for demonstrators, which will create a proposal to enter into a later, invitation-only demonstrator projects competition. We are also running a demonstrator projects competition for projects that are ready to start work.

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

We welcome projects across 1 or more of these 4 areas:

  • materials
  • design
  • technology or process
  • business model or behaviour change

The competition closes at midday 12pm UK time on the deadline stated.

Funding type


Project size

Your project’s total eligible costs must be between £25,000 and £50,000.

Who can apply

State aid

Any UK business claiming funding must be eligible to receive state aid at the time we confirm you will be awarded funding. If you are unsure please take legal advice. For further information see our general guidance.

Your project

Your project’s total eligible costs must be between £25,000 and £50,000.

Projects must start by 1 June 2020 and end by 31 August 2020. They can last up to 3 months.

If your project’s total eligible costs or duration fall outside of our eligibility criteria, you must provide justification by email to at least 10 days before the competition closes. We will decide whether to approve your request.

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

If an RTO is the lead it must collaborate with one other business of any size.

Academic institutions cannot lead.

Project team

To collaborate with the lead organisation your organisation must:

  • be a UK registered business of any size, academic institution, charity or public sector organisation
  • 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

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.

Multiple applications

Any one business or RTO can lead on one application and collaborate in a further 2 applications.

If a business is not leading an application, they can collaborate in up to 3 applications. If an RTO is not the lead on any application, they can collaborate in any number of applications.

An academic institution can collaborate on any number of applications.

Previous applications


You can use a resubmission to apply for this competition. A resubmission is a proposal Innovate UK judges as not materially different from one you've submitted before. It can be updated based on the assessors' feedback.

If you submit a new proposal this time you will be able to use it in no more than one future competition that allows resubmissions.

Failure to exploit

If you applied to a previous competition as the lead or sole organisation and were awarded funding by Innovate UK or UK Research and Innovation, but did not make a substantial effort to exploit that award, we will award no more funding to you, in this or any other competition. You will not be able to contest our decision. We will:

  • assess your efforts in the previous competition against your exploitation plan for that project
  • review the monitoring officers’ reports and any other relevant sources for evidence
  • document our decision, which will be made by 3 team members, and communicate it to you in writing

Previous projects

Under the terms of Innovate UK funding, you are required to submit an independent accountant’s report (IAR) with your final claim. If you or any organisation in your consortium failed to submit an IAR on a previous project, we will not award funding to you in this or any other competition until we have received the documents.


We have allocated up to £700,000 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 feasibility studies.

You can 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

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

This competition provides state aid funding under article 25, ‘Aid for research and development’, of the General Block Exemption Regulation (GBER). It is your responsibility to make sure that your organisation is eligible to receive state aid.

Your proposal

The aim of this competition is to support the development of proposals for 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 (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 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. Read the supporting information to understand the definitions we are using of these terms.

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 4 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

Research categories

We will fund demonstrator proposals, which are feasibility studies, as defined in the general guidance.

Projects we will not fund

We 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
5 December 2019
London briefing event recording
9 December 2019
Competition opens
19 February 2020 12:00pm
Competition closes
3 April 2020 2:44pm
Applicants notified

Before you start

You must read the general guidance for applicants before you start.

What we will ask you

The application is split into 3 sections:

  1. Project details.
  2. Application questions.
  3. Finances.

1. Project details

This section sets the scene for the assessors and is not scored.

Application team

Decide which organisations will work with you on the project. Invite people from those organisations to help complete the application.

Application details

The lead applicant must complete this section. Give your project’s title, start date and duration. Is the application a resubmission?

Research category

Select the type of research you will undertake.

Project summary

Describe your project briefly and be clear about what makes it innovative. We use this section to assign experts to assess your application.

Your answer can be up to 400 words long.

Public description

Describe your project in detail, and in a way that you are happy to see published. Do not include any commercially sensitive information. If we award your project funding, we will publish this description. This could happen before you start your project.

Your answer can be up to 400 words long.


Describe how your project fits the scope of the competition. If your project is not in scope it will not be eligible for funding.

Your answer can be up to 400 words long.

2. Application questions

The assessors will score your answers. You will receive feedback from them for each one.

Your answer to each question can be up to 400 words long. Do not include any website addresses in your answers.

Question 1. Need or challenge

We will score this question out of 10.

What is the business need, technological challenge and/or market opportunity behind your innovation?

Describe or explain:

  • the main motivation for the project
  • the business need, technological challenge or market opportunity
  • the nearest current state-of-the-art system, including those near market or in development, and its limitations
  • any work you have already done to respond to this need, for example if the project is focused on developing an existing capability or building a new one, and indicate whether you have already received UKRI or Innovate UK funding for previous work.
  • the wider economic, social, cultural or political challenges which are influential in creating the opportunity, such as incoming regulations, using our Horizons toolkit if appropriate.

Be aware that environmental challenges will be addressed in a separate question.

Question 2. Approach and innovation

We will score this question out of 10.

What approach will you take and where will the focus of the innovation be?

Describe or explain:

  • how you will respond to the need, challenge or opportunity identified
  • how you will improve on the nearest current state-of-the-art identified and what progress is expected as a result of the project
  • whether the innovation will focus on the application of existing technologies in new areas, the development of new technologies for existing areas or a totally disruptive approach
  • the freedom you have to operate
  • how this project fits with your current product, service lines or offerings
  • how it will make you more competitive

If there is a research organisation in the project team, describe:

  • your plans to spread the project’s research outputs over a reasonable timescale
  • how you expect to use the results generated from the project in further research activities

You can submit a single appendix as a PDF no larger than 10MB and up to 4 A4 pages long to support your answer. Charts and diagrams are welcome. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 3. System change and UK Plastics Pact targets

We will score this question out of 15.

Taking a systems perspective, explain how this project delivers systemic changes towards delivery of UK Plastics Pact targets relative to the current state of the art. Before answering, read the supporting information for definitions of systems perspective, lifecycle approach and environment impacts.

Describe or explain:
  • the elements of the supply chain to be considered, which form the system boundaries of your project
  • the ways your project would deliver a change in the system, for example a change in consumer behaviour, an increase in recycling rate or reduction in the use of virgin plastic
  • how this project would contribute to delivering against one or more of the 4 targets adopted by the UK Plastics Pact if it is delivered at scale

Question 4. Environmental benefits

We will score this question out of 15.

Taking a systems perspective explain how your project will change the environmental impact (positive or negative) of the component or components of the plastic packaging system your project is intended to replace. Before answering, read the supporting information for definitions of systems perspective, lifecycle approach and environment impacts.

Are there any trade-offs in terms of environmental benefits and impacts?

You must take a lifecycle approach and consider any additives and other chemicals (such as glues or inks) and/or materials that are used in the manufacture of a finished product, as well as process wastes.

Describe how you will prevent the release of plastic packaging into the environment, explain how you will control (as appropriate):

  • releases from production processes and management of by-products
  • waste reduction and releases from retail and other business activities
  • post-consumption kerbside, on-the-go and dedicated waste collection systems
  • process releases and waste from plastics recycling, recovery and transformation processes
  • littering
  • entry into sewerage systems and watercourses

Describe the carbon impact of your project:

  • versus the current state of the art, considering both direct and indirect impact across the entire system, including logistics
  • within the UK and outside

Describe the likely consequences of exposure to humans and species in the natural environment (such as fish, marine mammals and birds) to any plastics your project could release to the environment. If you are creating a new plastic packaging material describe the hazardous properties of the material. If you are substituting a different plastic type to perform an existing packaging function, describe this relative to the material being replaced. Consider any additives and other chemicals (such as glues or inks) and/or materials that constitute the finished product, as well as process wastes. Explain what evidence you have about human toxicity and ecotoxicity in soil, freshwater and marine systems if you have it.

Explain what evidence you have of any other environmental impacts your project will deliver were there to be a release of the proposed plastic type to the environment.

If your material is of biological origin describe the impact on land use (for example, displacement of food crops).

You must provide evidence to show you understand the importance of meeting the Challenge’s aims and objectives, and to allow for a meaningful appraisal of the environmental impact of your project and its component parts. You can submit a lifecycle assessment (LCA) or carbon footprint model as part of your evidence. Clearly state all assumptions you have made. Present your interpretation of LCA and carbon footprint outputs in a way that lets the assessors find the data supporting the stated conclusions.

If you submit an LCA or carbon footprint model, it must be a PDF appendix no larger than 10MB and up to 4 A4 pages long. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 5. Commercial case: market awareness

We will score this question out of 10.

What does the market you are targeting look like?

Describe or explain:

  • the markets (domestic, international or both) you will be targeting in the project and any other potential markets
  • the size of the target markets for the project outcomes, backed up by references where available
  • the structure and dynamics of the target markets, including customer segmentation, together with predicted growth rates within clear timeframes
  • the target markets’ main supply or value chains and business models, and any barriers to entry that exist
  • the current UK position in targeting these markets
  • as part of the potential and case for UK economic benefits include any specifically local economic benefits
  • potential and case for benefits from overseas markets

If your project is highly innovative, where the market may be unexplored, describe or explain:

  • what the market’s size might to be
  • how your project will try to explore the market’s potential

Question 6. Commercial viability

We will score this question out of 10.

What benefits will your project bring to your organisation and how will it make you more effective in the future?

Describe or explain:

  • your current position in the markets and supply or value chains outlined, and whether you will be extending or establishing your market position
  • your target customers or end users, and the value to them, for example, why they would use or buy your product, process or service innovation
  • your route to market
  • how you are going to profit from the innovation, including increased revenues or cost reduction
  • when you expect revenues to commence and if before the end of the project how this will be managed
  • how the innovation will affect your productivity and growth, in both the short and the long term
  • how you will protect and exploit the outputs of the project, for example through know-how, patenting, designs or changes to your business model
  • your strategy for targeting the other markets you have identified during or after the project
  • future UK and international commercial potential and scalability, including volume impacts within your value chain
  • where appropriate the credibility of detailed project costing and cash flow, particularly if you expect to be able to take advantage of government incentives

Question 7. Team and resources

We will score this question out of 10.

Who is in the project team and what are their roles?

Describe or explain:

  • the partners collaborating in the project and show how their capabilities and skills are complimentary
  • the roles, skills and experience of all members of the project team that are relevant to the approach you will be taking
  • the resources, equipment and facilities needed for the project and how you will access them
  • the details of external parties, including sub-contractors, who you will need to work with to successfully carry out the project
  • the current relationships between project partners and how these will change as a result of the project
  • any gaps in the team you will need to fill and how you plan to do this

You can submit a single appendix describing the skills and experience of the main people working on the project as a PDF no larger than 10MB and up to 4 A4 pages long to support your answer. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 8. Wider economic and social impacts

We will score this question out of 10.

What impact might this project have outside the project team?

Describe, and where possible measure:

  • the economic benefits from the project to external parties, including customers, others in the supply chain, broader industry and the UK economy, such as productivity increases and import substitution
  • any expected impact on government priorities
  • any expected regional impacts of the project

Describe any expected social impacts, either positive or negative on, for example:

  • quality of life
  • social inclusion or exclusion
  • jobs, such as safeguarding, creating, changing or displacing them
  • education
  • public empowerment
  • health and safety
  • regulations
  • diversity

Question 9. Project management

We will score this question out of 10.

How will you manage the project effectively?

Describe or explain:

  • the main work packages of the project (a group of related tasks within a project), indicating the lead partner assigned to each and the total cost of each one
  • your approach to project management, identifying any major tools and mechanisms you will use to get a successful and innovative project outcome
  • the management reporting lines
  • your project plan in enough detail to identify any links or dependencies between work packages or milestones

You must submit a project plan or Gantt Chart to support your application as a PDF no larger than 10MB and up to 4 A4 pages long to support your answer. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 10. Risks

We will score this question out of 10.

What are the main risks for this project?

Describe or explain:

  • the main risks and uncertainties of the project, including the technical, commercial, managerial and environmental risks, providing a risk register
  • how you will mitigate these risks
  • any project inputs that are critical to completion, such as resources, expertise, data sets
  • any output likely to be subject to regulatory requirements, certification, ethical issues and so on, and how you will you manage this

You must submit a risk register as a single appendix to support your answer. It must be a PDF no larger than 10MB and up to 4 A4 pages long. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 11. Added value

We will score this question out of 10.

What impact would an injection of public funding have on the businesses involved?

Describe or explain:

  • if this project could go ahead in any form without public funding and if so, the difference the public funding would make, such as a faster route to market, more partners or reduced risk
  • the likely impact of the project on the businesses of the partners involved
  • why you are not able to wholly fund the project from your own resources or other forms of private-sector funding, and what would happen if the application is unsuccessful
  • how this project would change the nature of R&D activity the partners would undertake, and the related spend

Question 12. Costs and value for money

We will score this question out of 10.

How much will the project cost and how does it represent value for money for the team and the taxpayer?

Describe or explain:

  • the total eligible project costs and the grant you are requesting in terms of the project goals
  • how the partners will finance their contributions to the project
  • how this project represents value for money for you and the taxpayer
  • how it compares to what you would spend your money on otherwise
  • the balance of costs and grant across the project partners
  • any sub-contractor costs and why they are critical to the project


Each organisation in your project must complete their own project costs, organisational details and funding details. Academic institutions will need to complete and upload a Je-S form. For full details on what costs you can claim please see our project costs guidance.


A systems perspective

A ‘system’ in the context of the SSPP Challenge is a set of supply chain activities or components that interact with at least one other. They combine to serve the common objective of (in the words of the Challenge aims) “delivering cleaner growth across the supply chain, with a dramatic reduction in plastic waste entering the environment by 2025”.

A ‘systems perspective’ means considering the functions of a system's parts based on their relations with one another and within the system's larger context. It would typically address the following components along the supply chain:

  1. The selection methods supporting a new packaging material, including how it incorporates a lifecycle approach and uses the minimum material necessary to maintain functionality.
  2. Whether a new packaging material meets the requirements of EN 13428 or ISO 18602 and other relevant standards on heavy metals and dangerous substances, including for contact with food substances.
  3. The impact of your project on the consumer, the change in consumer behaviour needed to deliver the project benefits, and how this will be achieved, for example through labelling.
  4. Whether the packaging can be captured in existing post-consumption collection systems in a form suitable for reuse or recycling.
  5. How the material will be differentiated or separated in a post-collection recycling or conversion processes
  6. Whether there is an offtake market for recycled material.

Depending on the focus of your project, only some of these items might be relevant. You might also identify other components or activities inside and outside the plastic packaging supply chain, such as an external energy source that supplies power into a manufacturing or treatment process.

The ‘system boundary’ of the project is the boundary that encloses all relevant components and activities, inside and outside the plastic packaging supply chain.

An example of a systems perspective would be a project delivering systems change with a reduction in plastic waste entering the environment relative to the current state-of-the-art by:

  • eliciting a change in consumer behaviour, say through smart labelling, leading to
  • a change in kerbside collection capture rates of the packaging under consideration, leading to
  • a change in recycling/recovery rates, leading to
  • a change in uptake as a recycled product, leading to
  • a measured reduction in material released to the environment

A lifecycle approach

All plastic packaging materials have a lifecycle. They are produced from raw materials or from recycled materials, transported to the shops, bought and used by consumers, and eventually discarded. At that point they are either captured and recycled, captured and disposed of in a controlled manner, or are released into the environment through littering and other behaviours.

At each phase in their lifecycle, packaging interacts with the environment (extraction, addition of substances, releases to air, water and land), and with the economic and social systems.

A ‘lifecycle approach’ considers the environmental impact of each component or activity of the project and integrates these to create an assessment of the environmental impact of the whole project. A lifecycle approach avoids shifting a problem from one lifecycle stage to another, from one geographic area to another and from one environmental medium to another.

Environmental impacts

Positive or negative environmental impacts affect emissions to air, water and/or land, resulting in human and biotic exposure. There may be trade-offs in terms of environmental benefits and impacts.

The first consideration in reducing environmental impact is preventing emissions of by-products, waste and litter to the environment.

The second consideration in reducing environment impact is the carbon footprint in terms of emissions of greenhouse gases.

The third consideration of environmental impact is the likely consequences of exposure of humans and species in the natural environment (such as fish, marine mammals and birds) to plastics your project will release (post-controls) compared to the system it is intended to replace or improve.

There may be other environmental impacts, such as :

  • persistence in soil, freshwater and marine environments;
  • degradation and/or biodegradation in soil, freshwater and marine environments and the impact of consequential breakdown products.

Extra help

If you want help to find a project partner, contact the Knowledge Transfer Network.

If you need more information, email us at or call the competition helpline on 0300 321 4357 between 9am and 5:30pm, Monday to Friday.

Help from Enterprise Europe Network

Upon award you will be contacted by your local Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) Innovation Adviser, acting on behalf of Innovate UK, who will discuss the growth opportunities for your business and offer bespoke business support services to help you maximise your project and business potential.

This service forms part of your Innovate UK offer under our commitment to help UK SMEs to grow and scale. It is only available to SMEs. Please engage positively with your EEN contact so that, working together, you can determine the most appropriate form of growth support for your business.

Need help with this service? Contact us