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Innovators win $1 million to prevent ocean plastics

October 06, 2017
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Yesterday the winners of the $1m Circular Design Challenge (run in collaboration with OpenIDEO as part one of the New Plastics Economy Innovation Prize) were awarded by Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, at the Our Ocean conference in Malta. The Challenge focused on the 30% of plastic packaging items that are either too small or too complex to be recycled and often find their way into the ocean, for example shampoo sachets, wrappers, and coffee cup lids. More than 600 innovators from over 60 countries from across the world participated.

The six Circular Design Challenge winners fall into three categories:

Category 1:

Rethinking grocery shopping. Today’s supermarkets are full of single-use plastic packaging to keep our groceries safe and fresh. Yet by rethinking the way we get products to people around the world, innovators can design out waste.

  • MIWA, from the Czech Republic, introduces an app that lets shoppers order the exact quantities of the groceries they need, which are then delivered in reusable packaging from the producer to their closest store or to their home.

  • Algramo, a Chilean social enterprise, offers products in small quantities in reusable containers across a network of 1,200 local convenience stores in Chile.

Category 2:

Redesigning sachets. Hundreds of billions of sachets are sold each year to get small quantities of personal care and food products, such as shampoo and soy sauce, to people mostly in emerging markets. Those sachets are not recycled and many end up polluting the ocean.

  • Evoware, an Indonesian startup, designs food wrappings and sachets (containing, for example, instant coffee or flavouring for noodles) made out of a seaweed-based material that can be dissolved and eaten.

  • Delta, from the United Kingdom, offers a compact technology that allows restaurants to make and serve sauces in edible and compostable sachets.

Category 3:

Reinventing coffee-to-go. More than 100 billion disposable coffee cups are sold globally every year, yet today almost none of them (nor their lids) are recycled.

  • CupClub, based in the United Kingdom, introduces a reusable cup subscription service, in which reusable cups can be dropped off at any participating store.

  • TrioCup from the United States offers a disposable paper cup made with an origami-like technique that removes the need for a plastic lid. The team has chosen a 100% compostable material and is working on an alternative that is 100% recyclable.

Starting in 2018, the winning innovators will join a 12-month accelerator programme in collaboration with Think Beyond Plastic, where they will work with mentors and expert advisors from the plastics industry and investor community to refine their design prototypes and scale them to become marketable solutions.

Plastics in the ocean are a clear sign of a broken system, as this was never intended to happen. That is why rethinking the way we make and use plastics is so crucial: how can we capture the material’s benefits, retain its value and make sure it does not end up where it does not belong? Designers and innovators responding to our challenge have displayed tremendous creativity. The combination of the winning entries being announced today and the companies committing to 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025, will help us get closer to a waste-free circular economy.

- Dame Ellen MacArthur

“These innovative approaches to replacing some of today’s ubiquitous disposable packaging are inspiring to us all. They are deserving of both prize money and also the support they will continue to receive as their prototypes move into a new development phase of fine tuning and partnerships that will enable them to scale globally. This is how positive systemic change in the world's plastic economy can happen relatively quickly." —Wendy Schmidt

"Bringing your fish home in a plastic bag one year and bringing that plastic bag home in a fish the next, is the reality. This award shows how innovation can inspire redesign, reduction of waste and reutilisation. Something also central to the European Commission's upcoming strategy on plastics. Congratulations to the six innovators."—Commissioner Vella

While the winning innovations represent the type of solutions needed to build a plastics system that works, these entrepreneurs cannot drive the transition alone. Major businesses, governments, and investors must make clear commitments and collaborate towards a circular economy for plastics.