The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, together with the Prince of Wales’ International Sustainability Unit, is launching a $2 million Innovation Prize to change the way we make and use plastic so that it continues to provide value and is kept out of the ocean.

The Prize is funded by Wendy Schmidt as part of the New Plastics Economy initiative, and is composed of two parallel competitions that challenge innovators to rethink packaging from both a design and material angle.

Small-format packaging items such as shampoo sachets, wrappers, straws and coffee cup lids amount for 10% of all plastic packaging, but are currently almost never recycled and often end up in the environment. The Circular Design Challenge, in partnership with OpenIDEO, is open to anyone with a good idea for how to get products to people without using disposable packaging, or for how to design plastic packaging that is easier to recycle.

The second challenge looks at Circular Materials, and has the ambitious goal of making all plastic packaging recyclable. About 13% of today’s packaging, such as crisp packets and food wrappers, is made of layers of different materials fused together. This helps keep food fresh, but also makes the packaging hard to recycle. The Challenge, run in partnership with NineSigma, therefore invites innovators to find alternative materials that could be recycled or composted.

It’s all part of the grand vision for the future of plastics, as set out in the New Plastics Economy report and corresponding initiative. With only 14% of plastic packaging currently collected for recycling, $80-120 billion of value is lost as waste each year. Most plastic packaging items are used only once before being discarded, often ending up polluting the environment. If nothing changes, there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050. The circular economy framework is increasingly being seen as a mindset that helps designers, researchers, businesses and governments to address this issue. Through innovation at the system level, products, components, and materials can be designed so they are repeatedly circulated, rather than lost from the economy.

Innovators who apply to the Prize are competing for up to $2,000,000 in grants and visibility of their solutions to major businesses, the innovator community and the public.

Both challenges are now open, and those interested can find out more from the New Plastics Economy website.

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