A NEW way of recycling plastics which would use fungi to consume waste could be developed by a West Somerset company.

Watchet's Onion Collective has been successful in securing funding From the Waitrose Plan Plastic - Million Pound Challenge to help create the innovative way to recycle.

The Onion Collective, the group behind the redevelopment of Watchet Marina, is working with sustainable company Biohm to develop the bio-recycling facility on the Watchet papermill site after receiving £287,701 of grant funding.

The idea would be to use mycelium to consume waste, and through this process, grow new environmentally positive products.

This grant is specifically to develop the plastic processing potential and is an entirely green, carbon negative and revolutionary way of dealing with plastic waste.

The project has been a couple of years in the making. It started in 2017, when Onion Collective won seed funding from the FORE Trust to identify what a new time and place appropriate industry could be, in the light of the closure of Wansbrough Paper Mill. From here followed a year-long feasibility study that concluded bio-based material development (materials derived from nature) to be the best match for the area.

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PROUD: The Onion Collective members Cat Smith, Georgie Grant, Naomi Griffith, Sally Lowndes, Rachel Kelly and Jess Prendergrast

Now, in partnership with Biohm, which is a world leader in this area of research, Onion Collective is a major step closer to making this dream a reality.

Onion Collective and Biohm are in conversation with Tameer, the new mill site owners, regarding meanwhile use of the old packing shed in order to set up this research facility, and are awaiting news of an additional grant that would enable them to set up an adjacent facility to develop a known process that uses agricultural waste as the feedstock.

The plan is to use this time and funding to develop and prove the idea, in time for the redevelopment of the site.

Onion Collective and Biohm then hope to take a tenancy in the industrial area of the new development, scaling this up into a proper community industry.

Onion Collective Director, Sally Lowndes said: “The potential this funding brings with it is enormous. This has always been a deeply ambitious project; to identify and deliver a new industry capable of creating high levels of employment and an outstanding environmental and social impact.

"We have been seeking two lines of funding; one to get the demonstration facility going, using agricultural waste and mycelium to grow new products, and the second to research the potential of using plastic as a feedstock. The latter is to develop very early stage research, by Biohm and the wider scientific community.

"The aim is that by the end of the funded year, we will have identified and trained a strain of mycelium to consume plastic at a commercially viable rate. Biohm are international leaders in this area, and have already successfully used mycelium to consume a synthetic sponge, so we’re optimistic that the outcomes will be met here, and we are enormously grateful to Waitrose for choosing to support us to explore and develop this possibility.”

Tor Harris, head of CSR, health and agriculture, Waitrose & Partners, said: “It’s important for us to tackle unnecessary plastic both in our shops but also in the wider world. All these inspirational projects have the ability to create real impact in tackling environmental issues and encouraging behaviour change so we can collectively achieve our goal of reducing plastic pollution.”

The £1 million fund was raised from the sale of 5p carrier bags, which have now been removed from shops, and will be split between the five winners. 

Onion Collective and Biohm are now working with leading national sustainability charity, Forum For The Future, to map and assess the local waste opportunities. The initial set up of the facility will begin at the end of June.

A second round of community workshops will be put in place imminently, to give the community another chance to ask questions and feed in thoughts. Dates will be made public soon.

The Onion Collective is looking for the really interested members of the immediate community to form a panel in relation to this project.

For more information or to get involved contact the group at info@onioncollective.co.uk or call the Onion office on 01984 633496.

For more information about the project, visit onioncollective.co.uk/industry-for-watchet.