It is predicted that, if we continue to consume plastic at the current rate, plastic will outnumber fish in the ocean by 2050. In an effort to combat plastic usage its the adverse side effects, Ellen MacArthur Foundation together with the Prince of Wales’ International Sustainability Unit have launched a $2 million prize to keep plastic not just out of the ocean, but out of the entire economy. The prize calls for innovators across the globe to come up with new ways of designing packaging and making plastic products recyclable to reduce waste.
To achieve the goal of eliminating plastic packaging waste, the prize is composed of two parallel challenges; the $1 million Circular Design Challenge and the $1 million Circular Materials Challenge. The first challenge invites applicants to rethink how they can deliver products to people without generating plastic waste. The challenge will focus on small-format packaging items like shampoo sachets, wrappers, straws and coffee cup lids which are currently almost never recycled. Although these items represent a tenth of all plastic packaging, it is these that often end up swimming alongside marine creatures. About 13% of today’s packaging is made of layers of different materials fused together, providing important functions like keeping food fresh. However these important functions make the packaging hard to recycle. This is where the second challenge comes in, seeking ways to make all plastic packaging recyclable.
Later this year, the winners will be announced, after which they will enter a 12-month accelerator program offering exclusive access to industry experts, commercial guidance, feedback on user and scalability requirements, advice on performance expectations, and access to innovation labs for testing and development. The judging panel for the challenge consists of senior executives from major businesses, widely recognized scientists, designers and academics. Solutions will be assessed against a broad range of criteria carefully crafted in collaboration with the challenge partners and participants of the New Plastics Economy initiative.
“After 40 years of effort, globally only 14% of plastic packaging is collected for recycling, with one third escaping collection and ending up in the environment. If we want to change this, we must fundamentally rethink the way we make and use plastics,” explains Dame Ellen MacArthur, the world-record-breaking sailor and founder of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. “We need better materials, clever product designs and circular business models. That’s why we are launching the New Plastics Economy Innovation Prize, calling for innovators, designers, scientists and entrepreneurs to help create a plastics system that works.”