Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Circular economy theme

The EPSRC circular economy theme aims to support and drive research and innovation relevant to the transition to a circular economy across the council’s remit.

Partners involved:
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

The scope and what we're doing

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) aims to actively support the engineering and physical sciences (EPS) research, innovation and training needed to enable a transition to a more circular economy and the significant benefits this will deliver for both society and the planet.

To achieve this, EPSRC works across its remit, through specific activities but also through existing theme and programme structures to encourage considerations of circularity, and support research which will directly enable it.

We must embed consideration of and designing for circularity in research and training across the innovation landscape now, so that the systems, technologies and tools developed to address key priorities – such as the climate crisis and enhancing population health – consider whole lifecycle costs and utilise the resources in the system as efficiently as possible. If we simply consider circularity in isolation at the end of the innovation cycle, we will increase overall costs and won’t fully achieve the benefits to the environment or to health.

Circular economy is managed as part of the Manufacturing and the Circular Economy theme. It is relevant to all EPS researchers at all career stages, but will also be of interest to business partners and interdisciplinary researchers in other council remits.

EPSRC has run a number of engagement activities related to the area in recent years – including a cross-advisory board workstream – to inform priorities, related interventions, and overall strategy. This engagement will continue through community interactions specific to the theme as well as through engagements and activities led by other themes.

Achieving a circular economy at scale requires interdisciplinary approaches and the involvement of industry, government and the public from the outset. The EPSRC theme therefore works very closely with colleagues from other councils, including the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Innovate UK, as well as government partners, to develop cross-UKRI activities, funding opportunities and strategies.

These include:

See an A to Z list of all research areas supported by EPSRC.

Why we're doing it

A circular economy keeps resources in use for as long as possible, extracting the maximum value from them while in use, and recovering products, materials and feedstocks after use.

More circular use of resources is crucial to achieving net zero carbon emission targets, as well as reducing waste and pollution harmful to biodiversity, and enhancing resource security.

Achieving the promise of a more circular economy requires research and innovation across the engineering and physical sciences landscape. EPSRC wants to support research and innovation directly addressing the challenge, but also support researchers across the portfolio to consider sustainability and circularity more broadly in their proposals.

Opportunities, support and resources available

You can apply for funding to support an EPSRC research proposal in the area of the circular economy at any time under any open EPSRC scheme, including standard mode, programme grants and fellowships.

Standard (sometimes known as ‘responsive’) funding opportunities are open to a wide range of research and approaches within EPSRC’s remit.

In line with council remit, we will support interdisciplinary proposals, but the majority of the research must be within engineering and the physical sciences.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

National Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Research Strategic Priorities Fund programme

As part of the circular economy priority, EPSRC leads the delivery of the £30 million National Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Research Strategic Priorities Fund programme on behalf of UKRI, working with AHRC, BBSRC, ESRC, Innovate UK, NERC and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

The programme supports a Circular Economy coordination hub and five research centres, as well as providing collaborative research and development funding through two calls led by Innovate UK.

Plastics Research Innovation Fund

EPSRC, in partnership with NERC and Innovate UK, managed the Plastics Research Innovation Fund which included £8 million for academic interdisciplinary projects to support research into a circular plastic future.

Networks and other activities

EPSRC also has a track record of supporting high-impact circular economy research through standard mode grants and other related activities, such as:

Find out more about the impact of EPSRC funding on the circular economy in this report.


The EPSRC circular economy theme ran community engagement workshops in spring 2022.

The workshops aimed to increase awareness and further develop understanding of the role of engineering and physical sciences (EPS) in achieving a circular economy.

They also encouraged the consideration of resource efficiency and circularity in all EPS research.

Find out more about the workshop outputs in this report.

Who to contact

Ask a question about the circular economy theme

For further information, contact the Manufacturing and the Circular Economy team.

Lisa Coles, Joint Head of Manufacturing and the Circular Economy theme

  • theme lead
  • theme strategy

Telephone: 07468 709621

Lydia Gardner, Joint Head of Manufacturing and the Circular Economy theme

  • theme lead
  • theme strategy

Telephone: 07925 149190

Judith McCann, Senior Portfolio Manager

  • NICER programme manager

Telephone: 07710 147494

Mark Tarplee, Senior Portfolio Manager

  • production manufacturing

Telephone: 07795 121510

Laura Totterdell, Senior Portfolio Manager

  • process manufacturing

Telephone: 07714 840842

Tochukwu Ajare, Portfolio Manager

  • design
  • digital manufacturing
  • strategic advisory team convenor
  • early career forum contact

Telephone: 07395 832113

Becky Cheesbrough, Portfolio Manager

  • biobased approaches
  • fellowships contact
  • programme grants contact

Telephone: 07849 300164

Naomi South, Portfolio Manager

  • materials
  • lead responsive mode contact

Telephone: 07513 484896

Katie Walker, Portfolio Manager

  • sustainability and circularity

Telephone: 07546 513277

Ask a question about delivery support and peer review support

Teresa Andow, Delivery Support Administrator


Last updated: 12 September 2023

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