UK incentivizes businesses to turn food waste into plastics

Stop food waste EU conference
Image courtesy European Commission/
EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste

Food waste in the United States alone represents between 30 and 40% of the total food supply. That amounts to about $161 billion worth of food that was thrown out in 2010, according to statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. We are not alone in our wasteful habits—the practice is prevalent throughout the industrialized world. The UK sees that as a wasted opportunity. The government has pledged up to £60 million ($74 million) in new funding to encourage industry to develop sustainable packaging, including through the use of food scraps. “Household food scraps could be transformed into environmentally friendly plastic bags and cups,” writes the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on the gov.uk website.

The new funding is part of an overarching goal to maintain the UK’s self-professed global leadership role in the development of sustainable packaging and is part of the country’s modern Industrial Strategy, a blueprint for the UK’s post-Brexit economy.

The new funding could help develop the following, as noted on the website:

  • New forms of packaging and plastic made from farming, food and industrial waste, moving away from oil-based plastics;
  • smart packaging labels, alongside smart recycling bins, that could tell consumers the correct bin to use and revolutionize the way recycling is sorted in waste plants;
  • “live” sell-by-date patches that deteriorate at the same rate as the produce to show consumers when their food will expire; and
  • a reduction in single-use plastics and increase in the use of recycled plastics in new products.

Businesses that would like to receive funding must enter into a partnership with the government and, in the words of the announcement, “provide a significant co-investment to this challenge.”

This initiative is intended to further burnish the UK’s credentials as a world leader in plastic waste and bioscience research. The government reportedly has invested £140 million ($173 million) in sustainable plastics over the last three years.

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