Funding competition ISCF Future Plastic Packaging Solutions

UK registered businesses can apply for a share of up to £2 million for early-stage projects in smart and sustainable plastic packaging. This funding is from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

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Competition sections


Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation, will invest up to £2 million from the Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Programme for early-stage projects.

The Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging (SSPP) Challenge aims to establish the UK as a leading innovator in smart and sustainable plastic packaging for consumer products. Its goals are to deliver cleaner growth across the supply chain, with a dramatic reduction in plastic waste entering the environment by 2025.

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, or supply chain data
  • embed life cycle thinking and end of life in packaging design and decisions

Your project must:

  • demonstrate how it supports the objectives of the plastics pact and delivers systemic change
  • clearly explain how you will reduce the UK plastic packaging system’s overall environmental impact

Your project must contribute to meeting the SSPP Challenge objectives, but we will fund projects that do not seek direct commercial output or financial value.

Beneficial information and outputs delivered by such projects must be made freely available to UK stakeholders.

In applying to this competition, you are entering into a competitive process. The competition closes at 11 am UK time on the deadline stated.

Funding type


Project size

The competition will award grants ranging from £50,000 to £150,000 per project. The maximum grant to be shared between partners in a collaborative project is £150,000.

Who can apply

State aid

Innovate UK is unable to award grant funding to organisations meeting the condition known as undertakings in difficulty (UID). However, as per the amendment on 2 July 2020 to the General Block Exemption regulation, we will provide funding to organisations that can prove they were not a UID on the date of 31 December 2019 but became a UID between 1 January 2020 and 30 June 2021. We will ask for evidence of this.

Any UK registered business claiming grant 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 on state aid.

Your project


  • must start by 1 June 2021
  • must end by 30 November 2022
  • can last up to 18 months

Lead organisation

To lead a project or work alone your organisation:

  • must be a UK registered business of any size, charity, non-government body or not-for-profit
  • must carry out its project work in the UK
  • must intend to exploit the results from or in the UK
  • can collaborate with UK registered businesses, charities, non-government body, not-for-profit or UK-based academic institutions, research organisations, research and technology organisations (RTOs)

Academic institutions cannot lead or work alone.

Project team

To collaborate with the lead, your organisation must:

  • be a UK registered business, charity, non-government body, not-for-profit, or UK based academic institution, research organisation or 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

If you are working collaboratively, the lead and at least one other organisation must claim funding by entering their costs during the application.

Each partner organisation must be invited into the Innovation Funding Service by the lead to collaborate on a project. Once accepted, partners will be asked to login or to create an account and 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 but they cannot receive grant funding.


Subcontractors are allowed in this competition and must be selected through a participant’s normal procurement process. Subcontractors can be from anywhere in the UK. If an overseas subcontractor is selected, a case must be made as to why no UK-based subcontractor can be used including a detailed rationale, evidence of UK companies that have been approached and reasons why they were unable to do so. A cheaper cost is not deemed as a sufficient reason to use an overseas subcontractor.

We expect subcontractor costs to be justified and appropriate to the total eligible project costs.

Multiple applications

When a business, charity, not-for-profit or non-government body leads on an application it can collaborate in a further 2 applications.

If a business, charity, not-for-profit, or non-government body is not leading an application, they can collaborate in up to 3 applications.

An academic institution can collaborate on any number of applications.

Previous applications

You can use a previously submitted application to apply for this competition.

We will not award you funding if you have:

Previous funded projects

Under the terms of Innovate UK funding, you must 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.

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 have allocated up to £2 million 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 feasibility studies and 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

For a collaborative project, the research organisations undertaking non-economic activity as part of the project can share up to 50% 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 research, development and innovation’, 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 feasibility studies and industrial research that addresses widely known problems in relation to plastic packaging for consumer products.

You must explain how you are innovating to address one or more of the UK Plastics Pact targets. The benefits of the new approach must be quantified in terms of the Pact targets where possible. Any environmental impacts must be described and justified.

We aim to fund projects with either direct or indirect commercial outcomes for the partners.

For example, a project to improve understanding where the outputs would be made freely available would be in scope.

Projects must deliver one or more of the following:

  • a more circular plastic packaging value chain, with reduced environmental impacts, such as carbon emissions and improved recyclability
  • improved understanding of effective communication techniques to increase recycling rates and uptake of re-use/refill business models
  • more consistent data and increased knowledge relevant to the supply chain

Projects can include either:

  • the re-design of existing goods, services or business models

  • design of entirely new goods, services or business models to serve an existing need

You must quantify the benefits of the new approach compared to the system your project intends to replace or improve.

Your project must demonstrate a holistic approach, including the likely environmental impacts to:

  • humans
  • wildlife and
  • the broader environment

We aim to fund a portfolio of projects addressing the four Plastics PACT targets, across a variety of:

  • technologies
  • markets
  • technological maturities and
  • research categories

This competition is funded by the ISCF Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Fund (SSPP), the Challenge Director reserves the right to make the final decision regarding all project funding.

Specific themes

Your proposal must focus on addressing known problems in relation to plastic packaging as the primary application.

Suggested themes include, but are not limited to:

  • packaging suitable for reuse, refill and online delivery
  • marking and tracking of packaging to improve supply chain circularity or sustainability
  • films and flexibles in packaging applications
  • low carbon, non fossil polymers for packaging applications
  • business models leading to reduced waste plastic going to landfill
  • behaviour change leading to less packaging waste or higher recycling rates
  • food grade plastic packaging in the UK marketplace
  • diverting small format and medical packaging from incineration

Research categories

We will fund feasibility projects and industrial research projects, as defined in the guidance on categories of research.

Projects we will not fund

We are not funding projects which:

  • do not have plastic packaging as the primary focus
  • do not meet the SSPP Challenge objectives stated in the scope
  • do not contribute to meeting one or more of the UK Plastics Pact targets
  • encourage or facilitate the export of plastic packaging whilst still classified as a waste
  • involve the production of any kind of fuel or direct energy generation from plastic waste
  • create any form of standalone ‘Design for Recycling’ guidance

26 October 2020
Competition opens
3 November 2020
Online briefing event: watch recording
20 January 2021 11:00am
Competition closes
26 February 2021
Applicants notified

Before you start

You must read the guidance on applying for a competition on the Innovation Funding Service before you start.

Innovate UK is unable to award grant funding to organisations meeting the condition known as undertakings in difficulty.

What we ask you

The application is split into 3 sections:

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

1. Project details

This section provides background 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.

Research category

Select the type of research you will undertake.

Equality, diversity and inclusion

We collect and report on equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) data to address under-representation in business innovation and ensure equality, diversity and inclusion across all our activities.

You must complete this EDI survey and then select yes in the application question. The survey will ask you questions on your gender, age, ethnicity and disability status. You will always have the option to ‘prefer not to say’ if you do not feel comfortable sharing this information.

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 be immediately rejected and will not be sent for assessment. We will give you feedback on why.
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.

If your project will:

  • result in direct commercial outputs or financial value, answer question 7 and type ‘not applicable’ as your answer to question 8
  • not result in direct commercial output or financial value, answer question 8 and type ‘not applicable’ as your answer to question 7

Do not include any website addresses (URLs) in your answers.

Question 1. Project motivation and objectives (400 words)

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

Describe or explain:

  • the motivation and aims for the project
  • the societal or business need, technological challenge or market opportunity
  • the nearest current state-of-the-art, 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
  • any wider economic, social, cultural or political challenges and opportunities you are aware of, or wish to explore further through this project, such as incoming regulations, using our Horizons tool if appropriate

Question 2. Your idea (400 words)

How will the project achieve it’s aims and where will the focus of the innovation be?

Describe or explain:

  • how you will respond to the need, challenge or opportunity identified
  • whether the innovation will focus on the application of existing products, services or technologies in new areas, the development of new products, services or 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
  • the nature of the outputs you expect from the project (for example report, know-how, new process, product or service design) and how these will help you to target the need, challenge or opportunity identified

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

  • how you expect to use the results generated from the project in further research activities

You can submit a single appendix. It can include charts and diagrams. It must be a PDF, up to 2 A4 pages long and no larger than 10MB. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 3. System change and UK Plastics Pact targets (400 words)

Explain how this project delivers a more circular plastic packaging system and supports delivery of the UK Plastics Pact targets relative to the current state of the art.

Describe or explain:

  • the elements of the supply chain to be considered
  • the ways your project would deliver a more circular and sustainable plastic packaging 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 impacts (600 words)

Explain how your project will change the environmental impact (positively or negatively) of the components of the plastic packaging system your project is intended to improve or replace.

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) 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 what controls you will put in place

  • 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) 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, should there 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 as an appendix.

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.

The appendix must be a PDF no larger than 10MB and up to 4 A4 pages long. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 5. Team and resources (400 words)

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

Describe or explain:

  • the roles, skills and relevant experience of the project team
  • the specific experience, expertise and capabilities of the team
  • any resources, equipment and facilities required for the project and how you will access them, particularly in the light of any continuing COVID-19 restrictions
  • any gaps in the team that will need to be filled taking into account the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on the team structure
  • any important external parties, including sub-contractors, who you will need to work with to execute the project successfully

You can submit one appendix. This can include a short summary of the main people working on the project to support your answer. It must be a PDF and can be up to 4 A4 pages long. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 6. Market awareness (400 words)

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 impact COVID-19 has had on businesses or sectors that are a focus of your project
  • 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

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 7. Outcomes for projects with commercial outputs for partners (400 words)

If your project will not result in direct commercial output or financial value for partners type ‘not applicable’.

For projects seeking commercial outputs, explain how you are going to grow your business and increase your productivity into the long term as a result of the project.

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
  • how you are going to profit from the innovation, including increased revenues or cost reduction
  • 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

Question 8. Outcomes of projects which do not result in direct commercial output or financial value for partners (400 words)

If your project will result in direct commercial output or financial value for partners type ‘not applicable’.

If you do not seek direct commercial output or financial value for partners, explain how beneficial information and outputs delivered will be disseminated.

Describe or explain:

  • your target audiences or end users, and the value to them, such as why they would use the outcomes or information from your project
  • how you are going to benefit from the information, outcomes and innovation
  • how the outcomes will increase knowledge relevant to the supply chain and affect innovation, in both the short and the long term
  • how you will exploit and disseminate the outputs of the project, for example through know-how, stakeholder engagement or changes to your organisational approach

Question 9. Project management (400 words)

How will you manage the project to achieve the aims you have set out? You should outline a concise, step-by-step project plan, broken down into individual phases of work. Describe your plans to ensure best practice is delivered.

For each phase, describe or explain:

  • the main work packages of the 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
  • how those outputs will help towards fulfilling the overall project objectives
  • your project plan in enough detail to identify any links or dependencies between work packages or milestones, taking into account the possible impact of further COVID-19 restrictions

You must submit a project plan or Gantt chart as an appendix. It must be a PDF, can be up to 2 A4 pages long and no larger than 10MB. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 10. Risks (400 words)

What are the main risks for this project?

Describe or explain:

  • the main risks and uncertainties of the project, including the technical, regulatory, commercial, managerial and environmental risks.
  • how you will mitigate these risks
  • any project inputs that are critical to completion, such as resources, expertise or data sets
  • the steps you will take to make sure that new discoveries and ideas will be recognised, supported and have lasting impact within your business

You must submit a risk register as a single appendix to support your answer. It must be a PDF, can be up to 2 A4 pages long and no larger than 10MB. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 11. Added value (400 words)

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

Describe or explain:

  • if you have already received UKRI or Innovate UK funding for previous work
  • 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

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, specifically related to productivity, quality and performance improvements of the UK plastic packaging sector
  • productivity increases and import substitution
  • any expected impact on government or regional priorities or regulation

Question 12. Costs and value for money (400 words)

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 each partner 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 subcontractor costs, the procurement process you used and why they are critical to the project

3. Finances

Each organisation in your project must complete their own project costs, organisation details and funding details in the application. Academic institutions must complete and upload a Je-S form.

Applications requesting grant of less than £50,000 or more than £150,000 will be ineligible.

For full details on what costs you can claim see our project costs guidance.

Background and further information

The Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging (SSPP) Challenge

The SSPP Challenge aims to establish the UK as a leading innovator in smart and sustainable plastic packaging for consumer products. Its goals are to deliver cleaner growth across the supply chain, with a dramatic reduction in plastic waste entering the environment by 2025.

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 the challenge.

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 off take 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.

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.

This can be achieved adding value at each stage, for example:

  • eliciting a change in consumer behaviour with smart labelling
  • a change in kerbside collection capture rates of the packaging under consideration
  • a change in recycling and recovery rates
  • a change in uptake as a recycled product
  • 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 its lifecycle, packaging potentially affects the environment, 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 environmental 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 about how to apply email or call 0300 321 4357.

Our phone lines are open from 9am to 11:30am and 2pm to 4:30pm, Monday to Friday (excluding bank holidays).

Enterprise Europe Network

If you are a UK SME and successful in receiving an award, you will be contacted by your local Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) Innovation Advisor. They act on behalf of Innovate UK to discuss the growth opportunities for your business. They 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 grow and scale. Please engage positively with your EEN contact so that, working together, you can determine the most appropriate form of growth support for your business.

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