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Innovative solutions to over-packaging and single-use plastics, and related microplastic pollution


The amount of materials used for packaging is growing continuously and in 2017 packaging waste in Europe reached a record – 173 kg per inhabitant, the highest level ever. In order to ensure that all packaging on the EU market is reusable or recyclable in an economically viable way by 2030, the essential requirements for packaging relate to reducing (over)packaging and packaging waste, designing for re-usable and recyclable packaging, including alternative reusable products or systems, and reducing the complexity of packaging materials.

Plastics continue to be one of the key areas in the 2020 circular economy action plan (CEAP). This is due to their circularity potential, but also due to concerns about their environmental footprint and the use of primarily fossil-based feedstock for their production. One of the main sources of pollution is the amount of single-use plastics and plastics packaging that is wasted daily and that overburdens our waste and water management systems. A particular issue regarding plastics is the pollution from microplastics and disintegrating material, which reaches the soils and ocean and whose possible health impacts on animals and humans still need to be assessed in depth. Some of these microplastics are added intentionally to products such as cosmetics, while other pollution comes from the disintegration and migration of various types of plastics during their use and waste phases. Plastic waste is also an unintended consequence of humanitarian response – often funded by European taxpayer money – and leading to pollution in countries receiving aid but without the capacity to manage the waste.

In line with the EU strategy for plastics in a circular economy and the Single Use Plastics (SUP) Directive, and in line with the priorities on plastics and packaging in the CEAP, projects should combine at least three of the following elements: a reduction of (over)packaging and packaging waste, design for reuse and recyclability of packaging, a reduction of material complexity including the number of materials used (including diverse polymers), the restriction of intentionally added microplastics, increasing the uptake of alternatives decreasing the dependency on fossil fuels and the related pollution, and measures to prevent the release of microplastics at all relevant stages of the product life cycle.

Projects should demonstrate at large scale and validate innovative solutions that are quantitatively relevant and replicable under diverse economic, geographical and social conditions, and across sectors, including humanitarian response, through better design, alternative materials (including biobased and biodegradable), business models promoting reuse, recycling, upcycling, deposit systems, smart labelling, sensor-based sorting, etc. to tackle over-packaging and single-use plastics in consumer goods, food packaging and humanitarian relief items. Where the use of alternative materials is concerned, projects should address aspects to assure quality and safety of these new alternatives.

All solutions should be based on life-cycle approaches. Proposals should integrate life cycle assessment using the European Commission’s Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) method and relevant costing methods. Projects should choose a systemic approach to value chains and end users, including consumers as key actors. All achieved outcomes should be demonstrated using quantitative indicators and targets wherever possible.

Social innovation is recommended when the solution is at the socio-technical interface and requires social change, new social practices, social ownership or market uptake.

Research on the above issues in the humanitarian context (relating to humanitarian relief items) is also eligible under this topic.

In this topic the integration of the gender dimension (sex and gender analysis) in research and innovation content is not a mandatory requirement.