Industry and academic research leaders unite at global plastics sustainability conference

Posted on: 11/05/2023

Back for its 3rd year, the Global Research Innovation in Plastics Sustainability (GRIPS) conference welcomed 1,000 delegates to the Coventry Building Society Arena, with a live stream available for online viewers.

The show featured a variety of talks from leading experts in plastics and materials across academia and industry, united by the mission to prevent plastic waste becoming fugitive in the environment.

Dr Sally Beken from Innovate UK KTN and founder of the UK Circular Plastics Network (UKCPN) said the conference was “all about the fantastic cohort and members of the UKCPN meeting face-to-face talking and discussing their projects and making them stronger. The conference shines a spotlight on almost every topic in plastics sustainability from types of plastics used, behaviour change, re-use, infrastructure and policy, with representation across all sectors – from textiles, packaging, construction and medical to name a few.”

The opening session was chaired by David Shukman, former BBC Science Editor who reflected on what he called the Blue Planet momentum – the programme, which was first broadcast in 2017, is widely credited for raising awareness of plastic pollution. He believed the reason it struck a chord with the public was due to the visibility of plastic.

You can’t see greenhouse gas emissions and its effects are felt over the long-term. But you can see the blight of plastic waste everywhere and the damage it does to our environment and ecosystems.

Michael Shaver of Sustainable Materials Innovation Hub called plastic waste ubiquitous. “When we see litter in the world, we think that is the norm.” Margaret Bates of OPRL (On-Pack Recycling Label) said there’s confusion between pollution and plastics. “Plastic has a valuable role. The move towards a different material which is still single-use only creates a different problem, and potentially with a higher carbon footprint.”

The panel discussed the plastic packaging tax, deposit return schemes, government policy, behavioural change, and best practice.

In the morning of day two, there was an update about the forthcoming UN Global Plastics Treaty. The treaty aims to provide a framework for coordinated global action to address the challenge of plastic pollution. Companies were encouraged to input any issues which might help shape the treaty, via the Business Coalition for a Global Plastics Treaty.

The show floor was packed with innovations and exciting projects from over 50 exhibitors. Amongst them was Engel, a global company producing injection moulding machines and automation for the plastics industry. Engel was showcasing their Victory tie-bar-less machine. Tie-bar-less technology ensures an accessible mould area, allowing for greater flexibility in design and placement, as well as easier maintenance.

Engel were demonstrating their machine which takes 100% recycled polypropylene and moulds the material into new products, in this case, a handy box which delegates could take away.

Chris Stafford, Engel’s Sales Operations Manager said: “GRIPS has been really good – the quality of the interactions has been very high. It’s important to have a focus on sustainability as it’s a direction we need to be going. For us it’s great to be here and show what we can do with recycled materials.”

Also showcasing their products was Innovation Advantage, based in Bath. The company is developing a scalable, modular photobioreactor (PBR) to grow microalgae from repurposed PET plastic bottles and recycled waste. Microalgae is used to make useful products from cosmetics to health foods, animal feed to bioplastics.

Their vision is to help low and middle income countries that have no recycling capability, to use the PET plastic bottles to produce something of value so that the plastic will not be perceived as waste and therefore not thrown away.

Matthew Shearn, Director, Innovation Advantage said: “I’ve attended virtually in previous years and I’m really pleased to be here in person this year. It’s a fantastic networking opportunity – I’m looking to partner with anyone that’s involved in circular plastic ideas.”

Delegate Rachael Egglestone, Business Engagement Partner, University of Birmingham attended the show online on day one and visited the show in-person on day two. She said: “The online sessions yesterday were very powerful and inspiring. Today, I’ve really enjoyed speaking to the exhibitors and seeing the different technologies on show and how they’re advancing. I’m looking for opportunities for the university’s Plastics Network to partner with some of the organisations at the show to advance R&D capability. Overall it’s been really insightful, I’ve learned a lot and it’s fantastic to see there’s lots of interdisciplinary crossover between sectors.”

To join a community of sustainable plastics innovators, visit the UK Circular Plastics Network website at or join the UKCPN LinkedIn group.

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UK Circular Plastics Network (UKCPN)

UK Circular Plastics Network (UKCPN)

The UK Circular Plastics Network (UKCPN) aims to bring together the diverse users of plastic products and realise the best means for reducing plastic waste entering the environment through a programme of networking and knowledge-sharing events and related support activities.


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