Competition for new materials that could stop plastic pollution announces winners

The £1.4 million New Plastics Economy Innovation Prize has announced its second round of winners, which includes five, recyclable or biodegradable packaging materials.

Courtesy of Dutch Scenery

The winners of the second round of a design competition to create more sustainable packaging that will reduce ocean pollution have been announced.

The $2 million (£1.4 million) New Plastics Economy Innovation Prize was launched in May last year, and invited designers and materials manufacturers to submit concepts for packaging that would be easier to recycle and more biodegradable, which would reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfill and eventually the oceans.

Two challenges – design and materials

The competition, launched by British recycling charity The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, was split into two challenges, with the aim of awarding a total of 10 winners $200,000 (£140,000) each to bring their ideas to market.

The first challenge, sponsored by OpenIDEO, asked designers to rethink packaging concepts for small, every-day consumer products such as coffee cup lids and food wrappers. Five winners were announced in October last year, including a grocery shopping app and a coffee cup subscription service.

The second challenge, sponsored by NineSigma, asked manufacturers, researchers and scientists to come up with alternative materials that could be used in packaging.

Recyclable and biodegradable

The five winners of the materials challenge have now been announced, and were split into two categories – making un-recyclable packaging recyclable, and creating packaging that is biodegradable and can be broken down by natural processes.

The concepts aim to either improve or offer alternatives to existing packaging used for products such as sauces, coffee, laundry detergent and snacks, some of which are hard or expensive to recycle because they are made of several layers of different materials.

Aluminium replacements and coatings to keep food fresh

Winners include The University of Pittsburgh, which has created a new version of polyethylene using nano-engineering that makes sandwich bags easier to recycle; and Aronax Techologies Spain, which has developed an additive that can be applied to plastics to turn them into an aluminium alternative, and could be used for coverings such as on toothpaste tubes.

Other winners include Full Cycle Bioplastics, Elk Packaging and Associated Labels and Packaging, which have collectively created a compostable material made from organic waste and plants; VTT Technical Research Institute of Finland, which has created a plastic-like material from plants and wood; and Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research, which has developed BioOrmocer, a coating that can be applied to biodegradable packaging to keep food fresh.

Plastics should “never become waste or enter the ocean”

The five winners will now receive $200,000 (£140,000) each, and will join a 12-month accelerator programme to bring their materials to market.

Dame Ellen MacArthur says the aim of the competition is to promote a “circular economy”, and hopes it will encourage governments, designers and manufacturers to come up with similar ideas in the future.

“We urgently need solutions that address the root causes of the problem, not just the symptoms,” she says. “In a new plastics economy, plastics will never become waste or enter the ocean in the first place. I hope these innovations will inspire even more progress, helping to build a system in which all plastic materials are reused, recycled or safely composted.”

Worldwide push to limit plastic pollution

The competition comes as governments, supermarkets and brands worldwide have committed to stopping plastic pollution.

This includes the French Government, which has passed a new law banning all disposable, plastic cups, plates and cutlery from 2020 onwards, the UK Government, which has committed to stopping all avoidable plastic waste by 2042.

Tesco has also said it wants all its packaging to be recyclable or compostable by 2025, while Sainsbury’s wants to half the amount of plastic packaging it produced in 2005, by 2020. McDonald’s also wants to have fully recyclable packaging by 2025.

Read about all 10 winners of the New Plastics Economy Innovation Prize here.

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