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Thomas Schueneman headshot

Ellen MacArthur Foundation Announces $2 Million Plastics Innovation Prize


To help spur what it calls the “New Plastic Economy," the Ellen MacArthur Foundation plans to launch a $2 million innovation prize in partnership with the Prince of Wales's International Sustainability Unit.

They say you can’t fix a problem until you know you have one. And 3p has previously reported on the Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Initiative to address the growing menace of plastic waste. Its research clearly shows the problem we have. The latest report, released last January at the World Economic Forum in Davos, proposes to reverse that trend with a “global action plan” for sustainable plastics.

It’s not just an environmental problem, either. With still only 14 percent of plastic packaging collected for recycling, the rest -- worth more than $120 billion -- is lost as waste. Typically after a single use, the plastic we use flows to the sea or to a landfill, infiltrating ecosystems along the way.

It’s a human problem. Plastics are a part of our civilization. The New Plastics Economy Innovation Prize seeks human innovation for new ways of packaging our goods and for cleaning up the oceans of plastic.

Prince Charles of Wales, the oldest child of Queen Elizabeth II and a longtime champion of environmental issues, will deliver the keynote speech at the launch event. Wendy Schmidt is funding the prize as lead philanthropic partner of the New Plastics Economy initiative. The Challenge Partners are OpenIDEO (Circular Design Challenge) and NineSigma.

Following are general guidelines for innovators. Go innovate!

To achieve the goal of eliminating plastic packaging waste, the Prize is composed of two parallel challenges:

  1. The $1 million Circular Design Challenge invites applicants to rethink how we can get products to people without generating plastic waste.
    The Challenge will focus on small format packaging items (10% of all plastic packaging) such as shampoo sachets, wrappers, straws and coffee cup lids, which are currently almost never recycled and often end up in the environment.Anyone with a good idea for how to get products to people without using disposable packaging, or for how to design plastic packaging that is easier to recycle, can enter this Challenge. Challenge partner is OpenIDEO.

  2. The $1 million Circular Materials Challenge seeks ways to make all plastic packaging recyclable. About 13 percent of today’s packaging, such as crisp packets and food wrappers, is made of layers of different materials fused together. This multi-layer construction provides important functions like keeping food fresh, but also makes the packaging hard to recycle.

The Challenge, therefore invites innovators to find alternative materials that could be recycled or composted.Innovators who apply to the Prize are competing for up to $2,000,000 in grants and visibility of their solutions to major businesses, the innovator community, and the public.Winners 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 first winners will be announced later this year.

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.

“Working towards circularity in the way we make, use, and distribute plastic packaging will revolutionize the scale of the human footprint on our planet,” said Schmidt, who has already funded two major XPrize competitions focused on oceans.

“The value of keeping materials in the economy is massive compared to the losses we suffer when plastic leaks into the very living systems we depend upon for our survival. The New Plastics Economy Prize is a call for creative design and technical innovation at a critical time.”

The challenge was developed in close coordination with the initiative’s more than 40 participants, including Core Partners Amcor, Coca-Cola, Danone, Mars, Novamont, PepsiCo, Unilever and Veolia.
Thomas Schueneman headshot

Tom is the founder, editor, and publisher of GlobalWarmingisReal.com and the TDS Environmental Media Network. He has been a contributor for Triple Pundit since 2007. Tom has also written for Slate, Earth911, the Pepsico Foundation, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, and many other sustainability-focused publications. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists

Read more stories by Thomas Schueneman