18th May 2017

$2m prize seeks solutions to the plastic waste nightmare

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The New Plastics Economy Innovation Prize, which is funded by Wendy Schmidt, wife of Google chairman Eric, calls for innovators, designers, scientists and entrepreneurs to create packaging that keeps plastics out of the ocean.

The demand for plastic products is expected to double in the next 20 years. However, only 14 per cent of plastic packaging is recycled, with the remainder, worth $80-120 billion, lost as waste. Most plastic packaging items are used only once before being discarded, often ending up polluting the environment.

If nothing changes, there could be more plastic than fish by weight in the oceans by 2050, according to the foundation.

“If we want to change this, we must fundamentally rethink the way we make and use plastics. 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,” said Dame Ellen MacArthur.

The Prince of Wales, who has been a champion for the health and resilience of the ocean for over 40 years, was due to deliver the keynote speech at the launch event. He has emphasised the urgency of the need to re-think the global plastics system and highlighted the important role of innovation and design in the transition to a circular economy in order to stem the flow of plastics into the ocean.

The prize is composed of two challenges:

The $1 million Circular Design Challenge invites applicants to rethink how we can get products to people without generating plastic waste. It will focus on small-format packaging items such as shampoo sachets, wrappers, straws and coffee cup lids, which are currently almost never recycled and often end up in the environment.

The $1 million Circular Materials Challenge seeks ways to make all plastic packaging recyclable. About 13 per cent 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 such as keeping food fresh, but also makes the packaging hard to recycle. The challenge is to find alternative materials that could be recycled or composted.

The first winners will be announced later this year.