Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Reducing the impacts of plastic waste in developing countries

The aim of this programme is to support the research needed to understand the risks posed by plastic pollution in low and middle income countries. It will explore which interventions, policies and regulations can mitigate these risks, enabling a cleaner, more resilient and productive environment.

Budget:
£20 million
Duration:
2021 to 2025
Partners involved:
Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

The scope and what we're doing

Plastic waste is polluting the land, rivers and seas, impacting the health and wellbeing of both people and the environment, particularly in developing countries. The aim of this programme is to support the interdisciplinary research needed to understand the risks plastic pollution poses in low and middle income countries (LMICs) and to explore which interventions, policies and regulations can mitigate these risks. The outputs of the research will support economic growth and societal wellbeing by enabling a cleaner and more resilient and productive environment.

This programme is led on behalf of UK Research and Innovation by the Natural Environment Research Council under the Global Challenges Research Fund, a key component in the delivery of the UK aid strategy: tackling global challenges in the national interest.

Where appropriate, projects funded through this call will be considered part of the UK contribution to the Commonwealth Marine Plastics Research and Innovation Framework, which aims to provide a platform and overarching structure for bringing together governments, industry, researchers and practitioners from across the Commonwealth to work together to tackle this global issue.

The aim of this programme is to support the interdisciplinary research needed to understand the risks plastic pollution poses in LMICs and to explore which interventions, policies and regulations can mitigate these risks. The outputs of the research will support economic growth and societal wellbeing by enabling a cleaner and more resilient and productive environment.

This programme will address the following themes:

  • sources and drivers of plastic pollution
  • impacts of plastic pollution
  • intervention, mitigation and adaptation in response to plastic pollution.

As the focus is on understanding and managing the risks associated with the current plastic waste in LMICs, research to develop new forms of plastic or alternatives to plastic is out of scope for this programme.

The projects funded through this programme will be interdisciplinary and include the range of expertise (for example, from the arts and humanities, economics and social, engineering, physical, environmental and life sciences) needed to deliver the integrated cross-sectoral research needed to increase understanding of, and mitigate against, the risks plastic pollution poses in LMICs.

A key goal of the programme is to develop realistic and feasible solutions that will enable a reduction in plastic pollution. Interventions, strategies and approaches to tackling plastic pollution in LMICs will therefore be co-developed with relevant local stakeholders.

Why we're doing it

Since they were invented in the early 20th century, synthetic plastics have been revolutionary. They have changed the way we live and are now an essential part of everyday life and embedded in the global economy.

Across societies, our relationship with plastics has been shaped by various cultural, social and economic factors, notably in regard to the low cost, diverse uses and the utility of the broad range of plastics now available. The ubiquity and durability of plastics has significant consequences, however, with huge amounts of plastic waste generated globally to date and a large proportion of this accumulated in landfills or released into the natural environment.

While we now know that plastics are present in all parts of the earth surface system and there is increasing concern about the risks plastic waste poses to the environment, and consequently society, the impacts of plastic pollution are poorly understood.

This lack of reliable evidence on the impacts of plastic pollution hampers the development of policies and interventions that will reduce the negative impacts of the current plastic waste burden, and makes it more challenging to develop alternatives to current plastics that do not create similar problems.

The volume of plastics entering the environment is greatest in low and middle income countries (LMICs). High income countries use the most plastics but regulation and waste management systems limit the release of plastics into the environment to some extent in those countries whereas LMICs often lack robust waste management systems and are rapidly adopting western consumption patterns.

LMICs may also be importing plastic waste from other countries. LMICS are therefore both most vulnerable to the problems created by plastic pollution, and the greatest contributors to the global plastic pollution burden, and understanding the developing world context is a key element of tackling plastic pollution.

Reducing plastic pollution in LMICs is not straightforward, however, and requires understanding of plastic pollution from production to disposal to develop workable solutions. This means taking account of the myriad of local, national and international factors that contribute to plastic pollution such as:

  • approaches to waste management (including access to innovative technology)
  • supply chains
  • how plastics behave in different environments
  • social and cultural attitudes and behaviours regarding plastic use
  • disposal and plastic pollution
  • economic drivers
  • the legal, governance and regulatory context.

Importantly, the trade-offs between reducing pollution and development must be considered to ensure that actions to reduce plastic pollution enable and do not restrict equitable, sustainable growth.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Who to contact

Reducing the impacts of plastic waste in developing countries programme team

Email: GCRFPlastics@nerc.ukri.org

Kay Heuser, Programme Manager

Telephone: 07738 101751

Vicki Durbridge, Senior Programme Manager

Telephone: 07738 101785

This is the integrated website of the seven research councils, Research England and Innovate UK.
Let us know if you have feedback or would like to help us test new developments.