The Sustainable Materials Innovation Hub is helping businesses navigate towards a sustainable future


The idea of ​​a greener future is one that can seem a daunting prospect to tackle at times – especially as businesses look to make the shift towards sustainability, but are unsure of where to begin.

Working towards a net-zero commitment is an issue that is particularly pertinent in 2022, not only due to an increased awareness of a need to tackle carbon emissions, but also because there’s a new tax launching soon which could affect the way businesses operate.

The government’s new initiative the Plastic Packaging Tax comes into force in April of this year, and aims to incentivize the use of recycled material in the production of plastic packaging.

The tax applies to manufacturers and importers of plastic packaging components which contain less than 30 per cent recycled plastic, giving businesses a good reason to begin to research into introducing a greater use of recycled materials into their operations.

If your business manufactures or imports plastic packaging you may need to register for the tax, which will be charged at £200 per tonne.

For small or medium enterprises (SMEs) who perhaps don’t have the luxury of a dedicated sustainability team, the notion of tackling a huge undertaking such as rethinking their reliance on plastic or face being hit with a higher tax rate can appear to be an impossibletask.

One institution utilizing its research, expertise and industry knowledge to help support businesses towards an environmentally friendly future is the Sustainable Materials Innovation Hub (SMI Hub), part of the Henry Royce Institute at the University of Manchester.



The SMI Hub is located in the recently opened Henry Royce Institute building

What is the SMI Hub?

The SMI Hub is part of the Henry Royce Institute, the UK’s national institute for advanced materials research and innovation, based at the University of Manchester.

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Located on the sixth floor of the recently opened Royce Hub Building, the SMI Hub was founded in 2020 with funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) to support the need to combat plastics pollution increasingly associated with major world cities, and forge a sustainable future for businesses.

In response to growing pressures to meet net-zero commitments, the SMI Hub has set out a new vision to work towards a sustainable society.

The initial focus for the SMI Hub is to support small and medium enterprises within the Greater Manchester region, but they’ve set their sights on broadening their scope in the future. Their ambition is to become the go-to place for any UK business looking to make more sustainable choices in their use of materials.

A varied team of specialists from materials experts, technical support staff and business advisors work with businesses to create trusted sustainable solutions for plastics use – helping them understand where they can make efficiencies, realize opportunities and avoid unintended consequences surrounding sustainability of products or packaging.

They offer three interlinking services for businesses looking to make a change in their use of plastics, along three key points: advice, assess and innovate.

This includes free sustainability advice, access to materials assessment facilities and innovation support to bring new products or materials to market.



The hub is part of the Henry Royce Institute, the UK national center for advanced materials research and innovation
The hub is part of the Henry Royce Institute, the UK national center for advanced materials research and innovation

How can they help my business tackle the new tax?

Following the introduction of the Plastic Packaging Tax, the SMI Hub is offering free support via the Unpack The Tax project, which will be tailored to businesses seeking to navigate the often complicated set of guidelines.

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The project, which will run until the tax launches in April, will address the potential issues that could arise from the tax and how businesses would be best equipped to comply.

This includes an overview of what packaging might be in scope for registration and whose responsibility it would be to report it.

There will also be a focus on how businesses could explore more sustainable alternatives in order to reduce the amount of tax they would have to pay, as well as how to avoid unintended consequences while complying with the new regulations.

The project will be an opportunity for honest dialogue between other SMEs, allowing businesses to share experiences, learn from one another and form a community.

The SMI Hub is encouraging enterprises in the Greater Manchester area to register their interest. Subject to eligibility and space on the project, businesses will be invited to an initial consultation with one of the SMI Hub team, to help them to understand a company’s challenges, if they’d qualify for the tax, and explore actions they’ll need to take to comply.

They will then take away their findings to analyze responses from all signed up SMEs to pick out common issues, and clarify where assistance or further research is required.

The project will close with a webinar sharing outcomes from the research and addressing key areas of concern to better inform and prepare companies.



The hub uses expertise and research to understand where challenges may have potential solutions
The hub uses expertise and research to understand where challenges may have potential solutions

“It was really helpful to be able to network with other passionate people, but who could also give insights into how science and technology could be applied.”

The SMI Hub may be relatively new in terms of its lifespan, but has already made a marked difference to the way businesses in Greater Manchester operate, helping them realize their dreams of a more sustainable way of working.

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One such business was David Luke, a designer and manufacturer of school uniforms, sportswear and outdoor garments.

The company started their sustainability journey in 2009, with a desire to improve the environmental impact of operations in the UK through energy and water savings.

A number of David Luke’s clothing lines are manufactured from a polyester fabric, which is certified to contain 30-100 per cent recycled post-consumer waste.

They then turned their attention to looking to reduce the consumption of plastics within their operations, without compromising on the quality of service they’d become known for.

The immediate focus was on packaging and how to transition to a more circular, sustainable business model in the future.



The SMI Hub is already helping businesses in Greater Manchester work towards sustainable solutions
The SMI Hub is already helping businesses in Greater Manchester work towards sustainable solutions

SMI Hub research collaborator, Dr Claudia Henninger, and Industry Liaison Officer, Adam Peirce, held a Circular Business Model workshop with David Luke to uncover current materials challenges and explore their sustainability journey to date.

The SMI Hub offered an array of suggestions and advice to support the transition to a more circular business model, including where to reduce plastic packaging and what would happen to products within current and future waste management systems.

Samantha Leigh, Sustainability & Trade Marketing Lead at David Luke said: “We have some very tangible things we can start to do in relation to packaging and so we are proceeding with a couple of projects relating to end of life for clothing hangers and protective plastic packaging.

“It was really helpful to be able to network with other passionate people, but who could also give insights into how science and technology could be applied.”

For more information about the Unpack the Tax project, or other services that the SMI Hub could offer, visit the website here.




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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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