The global plastic problem is a massive problem, but one that has prompted many to try and find a solution. One of such initiatives is The New Plastics Economy, an initiative by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which brings together key players including innovators and manufacturers, to rethink and redesign the future of plastics, starting with packaging.
The basic idea of the New Plastics Economy is to turn plastic’s linear economy – use it and discard it – into a circular one, where the plastic can be either reused or recycled.
One of the Foundation’s major projects is a $2m New Plastics Economy Innovation Prize. The prize is split into two parts, The Circular Design Challenge, which invites ideas on how to change the way packaging is designed, and the Circular Materials Challenge, which invites ideas on how to replace plastic with other materials.
New solutions for plastic
Among the winners of the design challenge is one that attempts to solve the take-away coffee problem. More than 100 billion disposable coffee cups are sold globally every year, yet hardly any are recycled. US-based start-up Trio-Cup has designed a disposable paper cup with an origami-like technique that removes the need for a plastic lid. It’s made from a 100% compostable material.
Among the winners of the materials challenge is VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, with packaging that looks and feels like plastic, but is made from wood. The substance is a compostable multi-layer material sourced from agricultural and forestry by-products, which could be used to package products like muesli, nuts, and cheese. In theory, this type of packaging could replace up to 15% of the current plastic barrier film market.
Plastic waste clogging up Jakarta’s waterways is the inspiration for the materials challenge design by Evoware. The company has designed a solution to the single use food wrappings, such as sauce sachets and food wraps, that are so small that they escape collection and end up on beaches, in rivers, or the ocean. It has made food wrappings and sachets out of a seaweed-based material that can be dissolved in water or eaten. It can even feed plants – it’s100% biodegradable and contains vitamins and minerals, making it a natural fertilizer for plants.
The winners of the innovation prize will join a 12 month accelerator programme, in collaboration with Think Beyond Plastic, working with experts to make their innovations marketable at scale.
However, while the winning innovations represent the type of solutions we need to build a plastics system that works, these entrepreneurs cannot drive the transition alone, says the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Businesses, policy makers, and investors too, need to make clear commitments and collaborate towards a circular economy for plastics.
Do you have an idea or a solution to the global plastic problem? Dare to take the challenge.
Happy World Environment Day from My Heart Beats Green!