Waste Pickers receive educational programme as part of a WasteAid and WRAP project

UK grants help AI plastic sorting in Kenya, milk pouch recycling in India and waste pickers in South Africa

25 July 2023

  • UK programme puts power in the hands of local people - eighteen month multi-million-pound programme supports innovators in six countries.  

  • WRAP and Innovate UK deliver International Circular Plastics Flagship Competition and expand support for four Plastics Pacts in South Africa, India, Chile, and Kenya.  

  • Two new Plastics Pacts brings global count to fourteen – Colombia and a forthcoming Mexico Plastics Pact.  

  • 3Cs Network (Circularity & Climate Champions) establishes global network for knowledge sharing on plastics.  

Plastics pilots funded by the International Circular Plastics Flagship Competition - a collaboration between Innovate UK and WRAP delivered through the Global Sustainable Plastic Packaging Programme - have supported actions under international Plastics Pacts and helped deliver improvements at plastic pollution hotspots in Chile, Colombia, India, Kenya, Mexico, and South Africa.  

David Rogers, International Director WRAP, explains “Having a network of international plastics partnerships is key in progressing consistent work around the world to repair our planet. Each is uniquely placed to make the changes urgently needed within its own territory, and I am delighted that the Global Sustainable Plastic Packaging Programme has proven to be such a strong platform to support and create Plastic Pacts. The quality of applicants and projects delivered under the International Circular Plastics Flagship Competition has been fantastic, and I’m particularly pleased to see Notpla go on to win an Earthshot Prize.”  

Innovate UK Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Challenge Director Paul Davidson, “Tackling the plastic pollution challenge and reducing plastic packaging waste requires sustained and shared innovation across the globe. The Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Challenge is delighted to be working with Innovate UK colleagues and WRAP to fund, deliver, and share much needed research and innovation to help the growing network of Plastics Pacts around the world to achieve their ambitions.” 

WRAP developed and delivered a programme of international innovations linking UK pioneers with partner organisations in country. In Chile, competition funding helped Notpla advance the development of two new seaweed-based compostable products for the market: pipettes and film sachets. Working with industry, the company developed compostable packaging that could be retrofitted onto existing machinery helping increase accessibility to sustainable alternatives to single use plastic. Pierre Paslier, Co-Founder/Co-CEO, Notpla said, "Businesses like Notpla need all the help we can get in developing truly sustainable packaging and building the new industries of the green economy, in the UK and globally. We have loved working with WRAP on our exciting project in Chile, they were understanding and encouraging throughout and supported us to implement a successful project which has been really important to Notpla in establishing our innovative packaging solutions in the global market. It's great to have a funder which is so passionate about our mission to make plastic packaging disappear." 

Support from the Global Sustainable Plastic Packaging Programme also funded an eight-month pilot through the Chile Plastics Pact, collecting flexible plastics house-to-house in the Lo Barnechea and Nuñoa municipalities. Flexible plastics are collected in very limited volumes in Chile via ‘puntos limpios’, making door-to-door collections a radical departure. The campaign proved popular, with upwards of 67% of participants recycling more. As a result, the Chilean Plastics Pact is working on a strategy towards national coordinated action on flexibles. Under the grant, WRAP also supported the Chilean Plastic Pact to design and implement the very first 'Recycle Week' outside of the UK. The campaign was so successful that the Chilean Plastic Pact is planning the second campaign for 2023. 

In Colombia, WRAP and CEMPRE developed and launched the Colombian Plastics Pact with funding from the Global Programme. The Pact was developed during a time of political changes, but successfully launched with nine members and allies across the supply chain. CEMPRE, with support from WRAP, is now focusing on the development of the country's Plastics Roadmap and list its problematic plastics, as well as accelerating recruitment. As with all Plastics Pacts, the Colombia Pact adapted the model for its local context with work packages reflecting the political and social context, adjusted for changes in legislature, power positioning and inter-organisational relationships.  

The United Nations estimates that 186 million tonnes of milk were produced in India in 2018. Government data shows that production grew by nearly 36% in the last 6 years, requiring a huge amount of plastic packaging - much of it disposable pouches. In 2022, approximately 30,000 tonnes of milk pouches were dumped in the city of Pune alone, in the Maharashtra State. The ReVentas project received funding from the International Circular Plastics Flagship Competition to advance its process for dissolving these milk pouches in solvent, to then purify and separate the polymer. With the Competition’s support, the process for milk pouches was optimised, producing a near-virgin grade recycled polymer for high grade products such as shampoo sachets.  

The Competition also funded a project in India to demonstrate that mechanical recycling of mixed plastic waste from single use packaging could be turned into high value applications, such as Injection moulded components for the car industry and packaging. Indian company Dalmia were able to source a range of mixed waste with partner Interface Polymers supplying the technology. Once complete, the trials will see Dalmia recycle mixed plastic waste to supply pellets to local injection moulding companies and film producers. Interface Polymers spokesperson said, “Receiving a Plastic Innovation Global Grant enabled Interface Polymers to expand our horizons and engage with plastic recycling industry in India to develop solutions mixed plastic waste streams. WRAP was able to use their network of experts to connect us to other companies working to improve the recycling of plastic waste. Many of our projects in recycling struggle to get started due to high risk and unclear returns, funding by WRAP enables the upfront risk to be reduced and this leads to clear understanding if a viable business case exists.” 

Support for the India Plastics Pact by the Global Programme also helped provide the first full scale assessment of plastic waste recycling in the country, for both formal and informal recyclers, regional variations in rates, and the end-markets for recycled plastic.  

In Africa, the Global Sustainable Plastic Packaging Programme helped the Kenya Plastics Pact develop an in-country Roadmap and list its problematic plastics. The Competition funded a pilot between Safi and MGA to test Safi’s Artificial Intelligence models, which analyse waste and recycling in Europe - in an African setting. The study in Kenya achieved comparable accuracy levels and collected quality images using a mobile phone camera, critical for scaling the technology in similar countries to enable instant payment to waste collectors through AI vision systems. The AI models gave accurate weight composition and detected individual contaminants, indicating its potential to revolutionise waste and recycling in a range of countries by providing reliable and transparent pricing to incentivise greater collection and better-quality waste material. 

Waste Aid South Africa
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In South Africa, WasteAid used the Competition grant to test Behavioural Change approaches to tackle a key challenge of low value plastic waste collection to improve waste management in rural areas in the Mpumalanga Province. The University of Portsmouth co-designed a campaign including murals and music with the local community to highlight the importance of recycling. Two murals were placed outside the largest local buy-back centre using Ndebele patterns to appeal to local people. Music was used to engage people and a song produced by locals, the chorus emphasising the need to pick up litter. The behaviour change tactics increased engagement with local people by 20% and resulted in one tonne of additional waste collected linked to the project.  

Waste Aid
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A WasteAid spokesperson said, “As administers of the fund, WRAP supported WasteAid’s’ “Masibambisane” project throughout its delivery by providing guidance and ensuring the timely execution of project activities. As the founding member of the Plastics Pact, WRAP connected us with key local stakeholders and partners vital to the planning and implementation of the project. The WRAP team ensured that our work complied with high ethical and monitoring and evaluation standards, ensuring that the project safeguarded and provided direct benefits to the communities we worked in.” 

In Mexico, WRAP and Innovate UK’s support helped advance the potential for the development a Plastics Pact in the country, helping to establish connections with key stakeholders from government and sectors of the plastic value chain. 

In addition, WRAP has developed its international Circularity and Climate Champions network (the 3Cs network), a platform for the exchange of innovations and knowledge between Plastics Pact members. Membership was adapted to include those from other plastics initiatives with focuses on circularity, to enable a much wider reach. The 3Cs network is now a powerful association of businesses and organisations – all members of the global Plastics Pacts and National Plastic Action Partnership (NPAPs) – who share the latest insights and innovations on key topics that advance the circular plastics such as reuse & refill, advanced recycling.

Notes to Editor

  • Under Global Sustainable Plastic Packaging Programme, Innovate UK & WRAP allocated nearly £2m

  • WRAP is a climate action NGO working around the globe to tackle the causes of the climate crisis and give the planet a sustainable future. Our vision is a thriving world in which climate change is no longer a problem. We believe that our natural resources should not be wasted and that everything we use should be re-used and recycled. We bring together and work with governments, businesses and individuals to ensure that the world’s natural resources are used more sustainably. Our core purpose is to help tackle climate change and protect our planet by changing the way things are produced, consumed and disposed of.  

  • Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Challenge UK Research & Innovation’s £60 million Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Challenge, delivered by Innovate UK, aims to establish the UK as a leading innovator in smart and sustainable plastic packaging, driving cleaner growth across the supply chain, and delivering a significant reduction in plastic waste entering the environment by 2025. The Challenge brings together the full plastic packaging value chain, academia, and other key stakeholders, and supports the delivery of the 2025 UK Plastics Pact targets. More information can be found here

  • Please contact: Ian Palmer, PR & Media Manager WRAP – 07802 873 431 - [email protected]