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Department of Biochemistry

Food packaging in a supermarket.

UKRI has announced 10 university-led research projects from across the UK will receive £8M in funding from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.


This investment is part of the Enabling Research competition in the Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Challenge (SSPP). It aims to help tackle plastic waste in the UK by finding solutions to existing issues with plastic packaging, reducing plastic pollution, and unblocking barriers to create fundamental changes in the industry.

The Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging from Plants (S2UPPlant) project is led by Professor James Elliott (Principal Investigator, Department of Materials Science & Metallurgy), Professor Paul Dupree (Co-Investigator, Department of Biochemistry) and Dr Jonathan Cullen (Co-Investigator, Department of Engineering).

The project will supplant the widespread use of fossil-derived plastics with materials made from naturally-derived sources, such as wood (cellulose and sugars). These materials will degrade more easily in the natural environment, and result in no additional carbon being returned to the biosphere. By using engineered plants and enzymatic processing, the researchers hope to create materials with new functional properties, such as improved strength or better protection, resulting in a reduction in overall volume of plastic packing needed to keep food fresh.

By assessing the impact of switching to cellulose and plant-derived sugars, and making better use of waste products from food and forestry industries, the project team will explore the trade-offs between the benefits of plastic packaging and the impacts of its production and disposal. Success of the project will result in fulfilment of many of the UK Plastic Pact 2025 challenges and will help to achieve the objective of establishing the UK as a leading innovator in smart and sustainable plastic packaging.

Professor James Elliott, Professor Paul Dupree and Dr Jonathan Cullen are part of the wider Cambridge Creative Circular Plastics Centre (CirPlas), a UKRI-funded programme. The Centre has supported a series of research projects and workshops for multi-disciplinary engagement on: i) sustainable feedstocks and materials, ii) manufacturing and recycling processes, iii) tracking plastics material flows, and iv) waste and management.


Food packaging in a supermarket.

Credit: Peter Bond (@pvsbond) at Unsplash.


Adapted from Energy Transitions @ Cambridge news article

Publication date

20 November 2020