$1 million awarded for new materials to tackle the causes of ocean plastic pollution​​

January 23, 2018
  • More than 8 million tonnes of plastics enter the ocean each year.
  • Together, the three best known major international ocean clean-ups deal with less than 0.5% of that volume.
  • There is an urgent need to stop plastics becoming waste and entering the ocean in the first place.
  • Today, at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, with the support of Wendy Schmidt, lead philanthropic partner of the foundation’s New Plastics Economy initiative, is awarding a total of $1 million to five new recyclable and compostable packaging solutions to stop plastics becoming waste.
  • 11 leading brand, retail, and packaging companies to work towards 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025 or earlier. 
  • French and UK governments have made commitments to create a circular economy for plastics.

Clean-ups play an essential role in dealing with the symptoms of ocean plastics pollution, but they do not address the causes. They cannot keep pace with the rising tide of plastic pollution. More than 8 million tonnes of plastics enter the ocean each year, yet the three biggest clean-ups deal with just 0.5% of that volume. 

To tackle the plastic pollution crisis, there is an urgent need for innovators, industry and governments to develop systemic solutions that prevent plastic from becoming waste in the first place. That is why the Ellen MacArthur Foundation launched its $2 million New Plastics Economy Innovation Prize, funded by Wendy Schmidt, Lead Philanthropic Partner of the Foundation’s New Plastics Economy initiative, and operated by challenge partner NineSigma, who helped identify potential solutions from around the world.

Today at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and NineSigma announce the winners of the Circular Materials Challenge. Combined with the necessary infrastructure, their innovations could prevent the equivalent of 100 garbage bags per second of plastic waste being created. 

They target the lightweight, flexible packaging used for products including sauces, fresh coffee, and snacks, which is too hard or expensive to recycle because it is made of several layers of different materials. The winners will each receive a $200,000 share of the $1 million prize.

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.

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.

- Ellen MacArthur, founder, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation

The technical innovations developed by our winners are exactly what is needed to begin to address the wasteful material culture of the past century that is creating increasing amounts of microplastics and plastic debris on our shorelines, in our oceans, landfills and even our own bodies. I am excited to see the winners of this prize money begin the important work in this year’s accelerator program, with the goal of moving these exciting breakthroughs into the marketplace.

- Wendy Schmidt, Lead Philanthropic Partner, New Plastics Economy

For these innovations to have greatest impact, businesses and governments must work together to create a system in which plastics do not become waste, by committing to scale up such innovation and provide the necessary collection and sorting infrastructure.

That is why the Ellen MacArthur Foundation welcomes the latest steps from leading businesses and the French and UK governments towards creating a circular economy for plastics.

Eleven leading companies recognise change is required

Today, the list of leading brand, retail, and packaging companies working towards using 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025 or earlier has grown to 11 – Amcor, Ecover, evian, L’Oréal, Mars, M&S, PepsiCo, The Coca-Cola Company, Unilever, Walmart and Werner & Mertz – together representing more than 6 million tonnes of plastic packaging per year.

In December the French government reaffirmed an important commitment towards a systemic solution, by pledging to recycle 100% of plastics by 2025.

Brune Poirson, Secretary of State to the Minister for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition, France said: "The circular economy has the potential to decouple economic development from pollution and the consumption of finite resources. That's why the French Government will announce a circular economy roadmap in March 2018, and has already made the ambitious commitment to cut landfill rate by 50% and recycle 100% of all plastics by 2025. This will increase competitiveness, spur innovation, and create jobs. Let's get it done, together.”

In the UK, WRAP and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation have announced a new collaboration to establish the first national implementation initiative of the New Plastics Economy in the country, a unique government-backed collaboration bringing together businesses, governments and other stakeholders to make step changes in creating and implementing circular economy solutions to plastic waste.

These significant steps provide real examples of what is needed to create a system in which plastics do not become waste.They demonstrate an emerging consensus to tackle the causes of the waste plastic problem and will help to inspire further innovation. Others around the world must follow their lead.

Explore the New Plastics Economy initiative.  

The New Plastics Economy initiative is supported by Wendy Schmidt as Lead Philanthropic Partner, MAVA Foundation, Oak Foundation, and players of People’s Postcode Lottery (GB) as Philanthropic Funders. Amcor, The Coca-Cola Company, Danone, MARS, Novamont, PepsiCo, Unilever, and Veolia are the initiative’s Core Partners. 

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