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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Global Innovation Competition Seeks Solutions to Microplastic Pollution

Conservation X Labs’ $650,000 challenge aims to “harness planetary genius” to create solutions to replace plastic in textiles and textile manufacturing.

Washington, DC-based Conservation X Labs — an innovation and technology company that spurs solutions to the extinction crisis — has teamed up with a global coalition of partners to launch a $650,000 innovation competition, dedicated to solving our microplastic pollution problem.

Each year, Conservation X Labs hosts global competitions awarding cash prizes to the best solutions for specific conservation problems. This year, the Microfiber Innovation Challenge aims to “harness planetary genius” to help halt the devastating impacts of plastic microfiber pollution on our waters and our environment.

Plastic microfiber pollution has infiltrated all of our living systems — it has been found in the water we drink, the air we breathe and the food we eat. Studies have found that more than 83 percent of tap water worldwide is contaminated with microplastics, and humans could be ingesting a credit card’s worth of microplastics each week.

We have yet to understand the long-term impacts of this on our health, but we do know that our clothes are a major culprit: 60 percent of clothing is made from plastic-derived fibers including polyester, acrylic and nylon; and the clothes shed microplastic fibers into the environment with every wash.

The fashion industry has begun to mobilize to try and address the problem; but so far, efforts remain siloed. One example is the recently announced partnership between direct-to-consumer sustainable apparel brand PANGAIA and material science company Kintra Fibers — the two are working together to develop industry-first compostable fabric blends, which they intend to make available for use across different industries in an effort to increase sustainability standards for synthetic materials.

In the meantime, Conservation X Labs is aiming to crowdsource solutions to the microfiber pollution problem via upstream sustainable solutions in textile production and manufacturing.

“By harnessing planetary genius, we can allow conservation to operate at the pace and on the scale necessary to keep up with, and even get ahead of, the planet’s toughest environmental challenges,” says Alex Dehgan, co-founder of Conservation X Labs.

Entrants have until June 25, 2021 to submit applications for innovations that replace plastic-derived textiles with non-toxic, biodegradable alternatives and/or develop improved textile manufacturing processes to decrease microfiber shedding. Finalists will receive the support of an industry advisory panel to guide the final presentations.

The Challenge is powered by the Flotilla Foundation and The Arthur Vining Davis Foundation; and is supported by a global alliance of partners including The Biomimicry Institute, Bolt Threads, Canopy, Fashion for Good, Finisterre, Greenport Harbor Brewing Company, Material Innovation Initiative, The Microfibre Consortium, The Ocean Foundation and Under Armour.

In addition to cash prizes, winners will have access to Under Armour’s innovation team — which will help develop, test and refine the winning ideas; Greenport Harbor Brewing Company will also name a new beer after the winner.

Learn more about the Microfiber Innovation Challenge here.