Funding competition ISCF Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Demonstrators - EoI

UK registered businesses can apply for a share of up to £16 million for bold and ambitious 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 £16 million from the Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Programme to support projects that demonstrate innovation at a commercial scale.

The aim of this competition is to address widely known problems in relation to plastic packaging for consumer products. Your proposal must include significant industry investment.

This is stage 1 of a 2-stage competition. The stages are:

  1. Expression of interest (this stage): evaluated by the SSPP team and independent assessment by Innovate UK. There is no funding in this stage.
  2. Full stage application. This will be by invitation only to applicants who are successful in the EoI stage through the Innovation Funding Service and will include independent assessment by Innovate UK, with an independent Environmental Impact Assessment and, if relevant, an Engineering Assessment.

Innovate UK expects to invest in up to 3 practical demonstrators at the full stage competition.

Your project must demonstrate an idea at commercial scale which:

  • improves the sustainability of the plastic packaging supply chain
  • helps deliver the targets of the UK Plastics Pact
  • utilises innovation in design, technology, processes, business models, supply chains or data for plastic packaging
  • embeds a whole-systems approach to plastic packaging sustainability, considering environmental, economic, and social factors

In applying to this competition, you are entering into a competitive process.

This competition closes at 11am UK time on the deadline stated.

Funding type


Project size

We want to fund large-scale commercial demonstration projects. You must request a grant of no less than £1 million and no more than £12 million for your project, subject to subsidy control.

Who can apply

Your project

Your project must:

  • request a minimum grant of £1 million
  • request a maximum grant of £12 million
  • start by 1 February 2022
  • end by 31 January 2025
  • last between 12 and 36 months

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

Lead organisation

To lead a project your organisation must:

  • be a UK registered business of any size
  • collaborate with other UK registered business, , academic institution, charity, not-for-profit, 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

Academic institutions cannot lead a project.

Project team

To collaborate with the lead, your organisation must:

  • be a UK registered business, academic institution, charity, not-for-profit, 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
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.


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 in question 7 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.

We expect subcontractor costs to be justified and appropriate to the total eligible project costs. A cheaper cost is not deemed as a sufficient reason to use an overseas subcontractor.

Number of applications

When a business leads on an application it can collaborate in a further 2 applications.

If a business is not leading any application, it can collaborate in up to 3 applications

RTOs and academic institutions can collaborate in 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:

Subsidy control (and State aid where applicable)

Subsidy control

This competition provides funding in line with the UK's obligations and commitments to Subsidy Control. Further information about the UK Subsidy Control requirements can be found within the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation agreement and the subsequent guidance from the department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

Innovate UK is unable to award organisations that are considered to be in financial difficulty. We will conduct financial viability and eligibility tests to confirm this is not the case following the application stage.

European Commission State aid

You must apply under European Commission State aid rules if you are an applicant who is conducting activities that will affect trade of goods and electricity between Northern Ireland and the EU as envisaged by Article 10 of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland in the EU Withdrawal Agreement.

In certain limited circumstances, the European Commission State aid rules may also apply if you are an organisation located in England, Wales, or Scotland and conduct activities that affect the trade of goods and electricity between Northern Ireland and the EU. For further information, please see section 7 of the BEIS technical guidance.

For further information see our general guidance on state aid and BEIS guidance on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

For applicants subject to the European Commission State aid rules, applicants will be required to prove that they were not an “Undertaking in Difficulty” 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.

Further Information

If you are unsure about your obligations under the UK Subsidy Control regime or the State aid rules, please take independent legal advice.

You must make sure at all times that the funding awarded to you is compliant with all current Subsidy Control legislation applicable in the United Kingdom.
This aims to regulate any advantage granted by a public sector body which threatens to or actually distorts competition in the United Kingdom or any other country or countries.

If there are any changes to the above requirements that mean we need to change the terms of this competition, we will tell you as soon as possible.


We have allocated up to £16 million to fund innovation projects in this competition.

We will award grants between £1 million and £12 million. Because we are looking to encourage large scale projects, there is no maximum limit for your total eligible project costs.

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

For experimental development projects which are nearer to market, you could get funding for your eligible project costs of:

  • 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

For more information on company sizes, please refer to the company accounts guidance. This is a change from the EU definition unless you are applying under State aid.

We may consider the purchase of capital equipment as an eligible project cost in large-scale commercial demonstration projects that go beyond the state of the art. This must lead to better or more efficient recycling or re-use activities compared to a conventional process.

For this EoI stage, if you include the purchase of relevant capital equipment, you must provide a rationale for your decision.

The research organisations 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.

Your proposal

The aim of this competition is to support business-led projects that demonstrate innovation at commercial scale to address problems in relation to plastic packaging for consumer products.

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

  • technologies
  • markets

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

  • humans
  • wildlife and
  • the broader environment

Your project must demonstrate an idea at commercial scale which:

  • improves the sustainability of the plastic packaging supply chain
  • helps deliver the targets of the UK Plastics Pact
  • utilises innovation in design, technology, processes, business models, supply chains or data for plastic packaging
  • embeds a whole-systems approach to plastic packaging sustainability, considering environmental, economic and social factors

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

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. Any environmental impacts must be described and justified.

This competition is funded by the ISCF Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Fund (SSPP), the Challenge Director reserves the right to make the final decision on whether a project will pass the EoI stage.

Specific themes

We are particularly interested in projects which address the UK Plastic Pact targets by demonstrating at scale:

  • minimised or reduced plastic packaging
  • refillable packaging and systems
  • sustainable solutions for film and flexibles
  • food grade recycled polypropylene and polyethylene
  • behaviour change leading to less packaging waste or higher recycling rates
  • solutions for problematic or unnecessary single use plastic packaging items

Research categories

We will fund experimental development projects, as defined in the guidance on categories of research.

Projects we will not fund

We will not give subsidies to projects that:

  • are detrimental to the environment compared with current dominant solutions
  • encourage or facilitate the export of plastic packaging whilst still classified as waste
  • will primarily produce any kind of fuel or direct energy generation from plastic waste
  • develop materials or packaging which do not have commercially available and viable UK recycling, or appropriate organic waste treatment infrastructure in place by 2025
  • relate to polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or polystyrene, including expanded polystyrene (EPS) and high impact polystyrene (HIPS)
  • are dependent on export performance – for example giving a subsidy to a baker on the condition that they export a certain quantity of bread to another country
  • are dependent on domestic inputs usage - for example if we insisted that a baker use 50% UK flour in their product

9 February 2021
Online briefing event: watch the recording
10 February 2021
Competition opens
24 March 2021 11:00am
Competition closes
30 April 2021 3:05pm
Applicants notified

Before you start

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

What we ask you

The application is split into 2 sections:

1. Project details.

2. Application questions.

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.


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.

Question 1. Awareness of funding opportunity (not scored)

How did you become aware of this funding opportunity?

For example, LinkedIn, word of mouth or UK Circular Plastics Network (UKCPN) website

Your answer can be up to 100 words long.

Question 2. Business opportunity (400 words)

What is the business opportunity that your project addresses and what is the size of the potential market?


  • the business opportunity identified and how you plan to take advantage of it
  • how it is done today and the limits of current practice
  • the customer needs that have been identified and how the project will meet them
  • the challenges you expect to face and how you will overcome them
  • the target market, and how the outputs from this project are required to progress or achieve strategic targets
  • the growth opportunity your project will create

You can submit one appendix. It can include diagrams and charts. It must be a PDF and can be up to 1 A4 page long and no larger than 10MB in size. 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 dominant solutions.

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)

Describe all relevant environmental impacts related to your project in terms of:

  • plastic pollution including reduction calculated or inferred, mitigation of pellet loss, and potential risk of other wastes or emissions into the environment.
  • yields and contamination including mass flow, yield loss and contamination
  • life cycle analysis (LCA)
  • regulatory

You can supply a relevant LCA as an appendix. It must be a PDF, can be up to 4 A4 pages long and no larger than 10MB in size to support your answer. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 5. Technical approach and management (400 words)

What technical approach will you use and how will you manage your project?

Describe and explain:

  • the technical approach versus the main objectives of the work
  • how and why the approach is appropriate
  • how you will make sure the innovative steps in the project are achievable
  • how you will measure your success
  • the breakdown of work

Question 6. Innovation (400 words)

What is innovative about your project?

Describe and explain:

  • what is novel about your idea and how value will be created from it
  • the barriers to entry for your idea
  • the competitive landscape
  • your freedom to operate from an IP perspective

Question 7. Skills, experience and facilities (400 words)

Does your proposed project team have the right skills, experience and facilities to deliver this project?

Demonstrate that the likely project team:

  • has the right mix of skills and experience including any subcontractors to complete the project
  • has a track record in managing large demonstrator-style projects
  • has clear objectives and roles or responsibilities
  • includes project partners with clear objectives and roles or responsibilities

Question 8. Adding value (400 words)

How will the outcome of your project add value to the UK by securing the financial support from the SSPP Challenge Programme? What will happen to the project in the absence of funding?

Answer both of the following:

  • whether 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
  • why you are not able to wholly fund the project from your own resources or other forms of private-sector funding

Question 9. Finances

Give details of the total eligible costs and total funding requested for this project.

Provide us with estimates of any partners’ eligible costs and the funding you are seeking.

Give your estimates in the template table available to download. When completed, upload the table as an attached appendix and select Yes to confirm this has been done.

The attachment must be a PDF and can be up to 2 A4 pages long and no larger than 10 MB in size. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

The template table has the following headings:

  • partner’s name
  • country where work is being carried out
  • partner’s eligible costs (£)
  • funding sought by partner (£)
  • capital purchase rationale

The funding sought by a partner can be zero.

Question 10. Project partners location (not scored)

Your answer can be up to 400 words long.

Please state the name of each organisation along with its full registered address. If you are working with an academic institution this doesn’t need to be included.

Background and further information

Contact us

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).

Innovate UK is committed to making support for applicants accessible to everyone.

We can provide help for applicants who face barriers when making an application. This might be as a result of a disability, neurodiversity or anything else that makes it difficult to use our services. We can also give help and make other reasonable adjustments for you if your application is successful.

If you think you need more support, it is important that you contact our Customer Support Service as early as possible during your application process. You should aim to contact us no later than 10 working days before the competition closing date.

Finding a project partner

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

Support for SMEs from Innovate UK EDGE

If you receive an award, you will be contacted about working
with an innovation and growth specialist at Innovate UK EDGE. This service forms part of our funded offer to you.

These specialists focus on growing innovative businesses and ensuring that projects contribute to their growth. Working one-to-one, they can help you to identify your best strategy and harness world-class resources to grow and achieve scale.

We encourage you to engage with EDGE, delivered by a knowledgeable and objective specialist near you.

Need help with this service? Contact us