There is a lot of room for improvement when it comes to recycling in Europe. Europeans generate 25 million tonnes of plastic waste annually, but less than 30% is collected for recycling. In the UK, 43.5% of municipal waste was recycled in 2015, just below the EU average of 45%. Environmental concerns raised through the likes of Blue Planet are leading public opinion and political leaders to take measures to ensure the problem of plastic waste is tackled.
The EU’s strategy
These concerns led the EU to launch its first strategy on plastics, marking the transition towards a more circular economy.
In short, the EU’s goals for plastic waste are the following:
“All plastic packaging on the EU market will be recyclable by 2030, the consumption of single-use plastics will be reduced and the intentional use of microplastics will be restricted.”
The EU wants 55% of all plastic to be recycled by 2030 and plastic bag usage to reduce from 90 to 40 a year per person by 2026. More money is going to be directed towards R&D in areas of direct relevance to this strategy: an additional €100 million under EU funding programme Horizon 2020 (which UK business can still apply for, despite Brexit) will be allocated to “financing the development of smarter and more recyclable plastics materials”. The European Commission is also proposing clearer labelling for plastic packaging. The UK has been implementing and developing these measures – it has, for example, banned the use of microbeads in cosmetic products and introduced charges on plastic bags.
Opportunities for UK SMEs
All these efforts make the circular economy a particularly topical subject.
There are, therefore, many opportunities for SMEs to develop new ways of recycling. The Innovate UK family, that EEN is part of, has resources to point you in the right direction.
There are a number of funding opportunities under Horizon 2020: this document prepared by the National Contact Points who provide support with applications, lists Horizon 2020 circular economy calls for proposals, such as methods to remove hazardous substances and contaminants from secondary raw materials to name one. The Knowledge Transfer Network also provides a list of open funding opportunities in the sustainability and circular economy sector.
Additionally, EEN offers a partnering service which can help you identify technology offers and requests as well as partnering opportunities in your area of expertise. Current examples include for instance this one of a Dutch company looking for carbon friendly technologies to recycle end-of-life plastics. With these tools we can help you find partners for your applications for R&D funding.
We have, for example, been able to help Aurelius Technologies, who have developed an environmentally friendly way of recycling car batteries. We carried out some market research and introduced them to a company experienced in evaluating and working with chemical suppliers. This has allowed them to move forward with their business. Simultaneously, we started proactively promoting Aurelius’ work. They are now in talks with a sizeable end user and have a few prospects for further joint development of the technology.
EEN can guide you to grow your business abroad and find funding suited to you. Get in touch with your local EEN now to benefit from this support!
The assistance provided by [EEN] has been invaluable. Their combined knowledge, experience and ability to open doors would make a difference to most, if not all, emerging high-tech companies!
Athan Fox, Technology Director, Aurelius Technologies