At the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos last week, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, with the support of Wendy Schmidt, lead philanthropic partner of the foundation’s New Plastics Economy initiative, awarded $1 million to five new recyclable and compostable packaging solutions to stop plastics becoming waste
The prize focuses on the 30% of plastic packaging items are either too small or too complex to be recycled and often find their way into the ocean. It was split into two challenges: (1) the Circular Design Challenge, focused on small-format packaging items (10% of all plastic packaging) such as shampoo sachets, wrappers, straws and coffee cup lids, which are currently not recycled and often end up in the environment; and (2) the Circular Materials Challenge, which, in line with efforts to make all plastic packaging recyclable, invites innovators to find alternative materials that could be recycled or composted.
Combined with the necessary infrastructure, the Circular Material Challenge innovations could prevent the equivalent of 100 garbage bags per second of plastic waste being created.
Together with the winners of the $1 million Circular Design Challenge, announced in October 2017, these innovations will join a 12 month accelerator programme, in collaboration with Think Beyond Plastic, working with experts to make their innovations marketable at scale.
The challenge forms part of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's Plastics Economy Innovation Prize, which aims to dramatically reduce the number of plastics that enter the ocean each year. Each year more than 8 million tonnes of plastics enter the ocean, yet the three biggest clean-ups deal with just 0.5 per cent of that volume.
"In a new plastics economy, plastics will never become waste or enter the ocean in the first place," said Dame Ellen MacArthur.
"These winning innovations show what’s possible when the principles of a circular economy are embraced. Clean-ups continue to play an important role in dealing with the consequences of the waste plastic crisis, but we know we must do more. We urgently need solutions that address the root causes of the problem, not just the symptoms.
"To get there will require new levels of commitment and collaboration from industry, governments, designers and startups," she continued. "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."
The winners of the Circular Materials Challenge were:
Category 1: Make unrecyclable packaging recyclable
The University of Pittsburgh team applies nano-engineering to create a recyclable mmaterial that can replace complex multi-layered packaging that is unrecyclable. This mimics the way nature uses just a few molecular building blocks to create a huge variety of materials.
Aronax Technologies Spain proposes a magnetic additive that can be applied to a material, creating better air and moisturec insulation – making it suitable to protect sensitive products such as coffee and medical products, while still being possible to recycle.
Category 2: Combining materials that nature can handle
Working together, Full CycleBioplastics, Elk Packaging, and Associated Labels and Packaging make a compostable high-performance material from renewable materials, agricultural by-products and food waste to pack a broad range of products from granola bars and crisps to laundry detergent.
cThe VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has created a compostable cmulti-layer material from agricultural and forestry by-products, which could be used for stand-up food pouches for products like muesli, nuts, dried fruit and rice.
The Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC has developed a coating with ,silicate and biopolymers that can be used in many different food packaging applications protecting biopolymer packaging and food against premature degradation and is fully compostable.