$2m plastic packaging design competition launched

25th May 2017


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Henry MacLeod

A prize fund worth $2m is up for grabs for individuals and organisations who come up with solutions to ocean plastic pollution.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the Prince of Wales’ International Sustainability Unit (ISU) launched the fund to find ways to prevent plastics entering the ocean.

The competition is part of MacArthur’s New Plastics Economy project, which is trying to discover how to break the ‘take, make, dispose’ nature of the plastics sector. A report by the project found that 32% of plastic packaging ends up polluting the environment.

‘This is a systemic issue. We need to go to the beginning of the pipe, the manufacturing, and build a system that works,’ MacArthur said.

The competition has two main categories:

  • the circular design challenge is looking for ideas on how products can get to people without generating plastic waste. Solutions should focus on small-format packaging, which forms 10% of all plastic packaging, such as shampoo sachets, wrappers, straws and coffee cup lids, which are almost never recycled; and
  • the circular materials challenge, which aims to make all plastic packaging recyclable. Around 13% of packaging, such as crisp packets and food wrappers, is made of layers of different materials fused together, making them hard to recycle. The challenge is seeking innovations on alternative materials that can be recycled or composted.

The businesses involved in scoping the project, which include Coca-Cola, Danone, Mars, PepsiCo and Unilever, will use the winning entries in their packaging, MacArthur said.

Companies working with the project were willing to collaborate and share solutions, she added. ‘We have Coke and Pepsi on board, I think that speaks for itself.’

MacArthur praised Unilever’s recent pledge to make all packaging recyclable by 2025, but said it was important to have all other major companies involved as they all use the same collection systems.

Tony Juniper, special adviser at the ISU, said: ‘Engagement with business is really exciting, and it’s a huge change from just a few years ago when quite a few private sector companies we worked with would say that this is a consumer or regulatory issue, and not really see it as something that can be solved through design and innovation.’

Businesses were beginning to see this now, which was quite a change, he said.

The $2m fund will be split, with smaller grants of $10,000 available to encourage individuals to bring forward ideas. Winners will be able to present their solutions to major businesses, innovators and the public, and will enter a 12-month programme with access to industry experts, commercial guidance and access to labs for testing and development.

The judging panel consists of senior executives from major businesses as well as scientists, designers and academics.

Entries will be assessed against criteria drawn up by the challenge partners, OpenIDEO and NineSigma. Both organisations specialise in finding solutions to global problems through open source networking.

The first winners will be announced later this year. The prizes are funded by philanthropist Wendy Schmidt, president of the Schmidt Family Foundation.

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