Plastic is great. It’s cheap, strong, lightweight, durable, waterproof, doesn’t break down easily… the list goes on. Its diverse range of properties lends itself to many applications. However, the exceptional durability of plastic is something of a double edged sword. In order to meet the high demand for plastic we produce over 300 million tonnes of it per year, much of which ends up in landfill, the oceans and even our bodies.
We have previously looked at a variety of innovations which could replace plastic packaging and prevent plastic from ending up in the ocean. There is no doubt that innovation is key to solving the plastic problem; however, innovators are faced with an additional challenge when researching and developing an idea. This is because it must be taken into consideration that the benefits of innovations will only be realised if they are readily adopted by the wider public. To stimulate innovation which fits with people’s existing behaviour patterns, or is consciously designed to encourage and facilitate changes in behaviour, Innovate UK has recently opened a new funding competition entitled “Designing sustainable plastic solutions”.
We previously reported on how technology which aims to end plastic pollution could be protected with patents and how a genetically modified enzyme capable of breaking down plastic is the subject of a patent application. While technology to improve how our plastic waste is managed is clearly important it only represents part of the story. What if we didn’t need to use the plastic in the first place? All over the world, innovators are working to end our penchant for polymers.