Milan’s food waste system and Costa Rica win inaugural £1m Earthshot prizes

A biomass fuel solution for farms, a unique hydrogen innovation and a service which cuts down on food waste are among the winners of Prince William’s environmental awards.

The winners of the inaugural Earthshot prize have been announced, with £1m prizes awarded to projects such as Milan’s food waste management system.

Prizes were awarded in five categories – each addressing critical issues facing the environment. These include restoring nature, cleaning the air, reviving the oceans, building a waste-free world and fixing the climate.

The Enapter team with its prize

The five winners were chosen by a diverse judging panel comprising David Attenborough, actress Cate Blanchett and youth climate activist Ernest Gibson, among others. The awards were announced at a ceremony held in London last night.

The Earthshot prize was established by Prince William, Attenborough and a wider team with the aim of developing climate solutions over the coming decade. The awards are set to end in 2030, with a new set of winners being awarded each year. The 2021 winners include several examples of industrial design and service design.

From Costa Rica to New Delhi

Costa Rica

Indian start-up Takachar won in the clean air category for its portable tractor device, which converts waste biomass from arable farming into solid fuel and fertiliser. Co-founded by Vidyut Mohan and Kevin Kung, the low-cost and small-scale device aims to streamline the waste conversion system.

This process usually requires transporting waste to specially designed conversion facilities or else it is burned, negatively impacting the lives of local populations. According to Earthshot, the technology could reduce smoke emissions by up to 98% which would significantly benefit the air quality for people living in New Delhi.

A network of food waste hubs in Milan won in the waste-free category. The Italian city has three such hubs, which recover food from supermarkets and canteens and distribute it to the citizens who need it the most.

An estimated 130 tonnes of food is recovered per year through these hubs (which equates to approximately 260,000 meals), Earthshot says. It hopes that the Milan system will act as “a blueprint that can be scaled throughout the world”.


Coral Vita, a project which grows coral on land and replants the organism in the ocean, was awarded top prize in the ocean category. The company’s farms can grow coral up to 50 times faster than traditional methods.

Vaitea Cowan, who was born in South Pacific, co-founded tech company Enapter and won for her green hydrogen generator AEM Electrolyser. The device converts renewable energy into emission-free hydrogen gas.

According to Earthshot, funding will help the device achieve mass production and develop the team’s engineering research.

The AEM Electrolyser from Enapter

Meanwhile the Republic of Costa Rica was rewarded for its efforts to restore its forests, which were continuously cut down throughout the 1990s. The Ministry for Environment rolled out an ecosystem protection scheme, paying its citizens to protect and plant trees.

Costa Rica’s forests doubled in size as result of these efforts, according to Earthshot, and has prompted a boom in ecotourism which contributes around £3bn to the coutnry’s economy.

Earthshot says that prize money will be used to help the government expand its focus to urban areas and also spread lessons and practices internationally, especially in the Global South.

For full details on the prize winners, you can visit the Earthshot prize website.

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