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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Tom Ford Plastic Innovation Prize Winners Offer Viable, Marine-Safe Solutions to Thin-Film Waste

The three winners are sourcing and scaling biobased and degradable alternatives to traditional, thin-film plastic made from fossil fuels.

Winners of the Tom Ford Plastic Innovation Prize, the global competition powered by nonprofit Lonely Whale to source and scale marine-safe and biologically degradable alternatives to traditional thin-film plastic made from fossil fuels, were revealed at the recent Green Carpet Fashion Awards (GCFA) by Prize founder Tom Ford, during his acceptance speech for The GCFA Visionary Honor.

The $1.2 million Prize Purse is a combination cash prize and direct investment presented by title sponsors Tom Ford Beauty and The Estée Lauder Companies, and Trousdale Ventures — the exclusive venture capital partner of the Prize. The Prize Purse aims to support the winners in scaling their solutions to replace traditional thin-film plastics, which remain a challenge to recycle and make up 46 percent of all plastic waste leaking into the ocean each year.

“I started this Prize three years ago with a harrowing fear that the world our children would inherit would no longer be a livable one,” Ford said. “I wanted to be a part of the solution, not be an arbiter of the problem. If we did nothing about the waste and pollution flooding our oceans, the disruption to our planet would be irreconcilable.

“Watching the brilliant minds within this competition has given me extraordinary hope in making the impossible possible. Our three winners have created truly viable alternatives — alternatives that when scaled across markets and industries will drastically change the course of the health of our planet.

“Today, as we announce the winners of the Tom Ford Plastic Innovation Prize, I am honored, hopeful and thankful. Honored to have such great minds and partners join me to pioneer change. Hopeful for a better tomorrow, and thankful for all that has already been achieved.”

The GCFA Visionary Award was presented by actor and Prize judge Trudie Styler in honor of Ford’s leadership of launching the Prize with Lonely Whale to help reduce the estimated 180 billion traditional thin-film plastic polybags used annually by the fashion industry alone. The GCFA was co-chaired by Ford, along with actors Cate Blanchett, Viola Davis, Simu Liu and Simone Ashley, and model Quannah Chasinghorse in a celebration of collective transformation and commitment to sustainability and moving the fashion industry forward.

“It was an honor to highlight the alternative materials created by the Prize winners to reduce the environmental impact of traditional thin-film plastic at the Green Carpet Fashion Awards,” said Livia Firth, activist, producer, and founder and Creative Director of Eco-Age and the Green Carpet Fashion Awards. “It has been inspiring to work with Mr. Ford, Lonely Whale and my fellow judges to identify a solution for traditional thin-film plastic that has the potential for wide-scale adoption. I look forward to seeing the fashion industry rise up to this challenge and embrace these biologically based and degradable alternative materials.”

The Winners are:

  • Sway — a US-based company offering seaweed-based, home-compostable replacements for regenerative thin-film plastic packaging at scale;

  • Zerocircle — an India-based company making wildlife and ocean-safe packaging materials from locally cultivated seaweed that will dissolve harmlessly in the ocean after use;

  • Notpla — a London-based startup inspired by the way nature encapsulates liquids, on a mission to make plastic waste disappear by pioneering natural-membrane packaging that uses seaweed as an alternative to single-use plastic.

“The Winners of the Tom Ford Plastic Innovation Prize continue to inspire me with their commitment to innovate in order to scale marine-safe alternatives, helping to mitigate the 11 million metric tons of new plastic made from fossil fuels that enters the ocean each year," said Lucy Sumner, co-founder of Lonely Whale. “The investment and ongoing partnership from Tom Ford Beauty, The Estée Lauder Companies and Trousdale Ventures underscores the vital need for collaboration to achieve systems change.”

A panel of extraordinary Prize judges, informed by an esteemed group of Scientific & Technical Advisory Board members, selected Sway, Zerocircle and Notpla out of the eight finalists under consideration following a rigorous nine month-long testing phase — sponsored by Nike and aligned with international standards — to ensure their materials are biologically degradable; minimize negative social and environmental impacts; meet industry performance standards; and are also cost-competitive, scalable and market-ready. The testing was led by the New Materials Institute at the University of Georgia and the Seattle Aquarium. The testing program included field testing in Caribbean waters and in-lab testing led by the New Materials Institute. The Seattle Aquarium led in situ field testing in Pacific Northwest waters and a bespoke, laboratory-based test designed to model what would happen in a marine mammal gut if the materials were ingested.

Finalists’ materials were also tested by major brands within their packaging solutions and supply chains to ensure viability as a replacement to existing non-recyclable thin-film polybags made from fossil fuels. The Early Adopter Coalition includes Burton, Dell Technologies, Florence Marine X, GoSili, HP Inc, Imperial Dade, J.Crew, Le Club, MillerKnoll, Nike, Noah, Rachel Comey, ROQ.US, Stella McCartney, Tom Ford Beauty, Tom Ford International, Veronica Beard, Version Tomorrow and Vuori.

The Prize Purse, presented by Tom Ford Beauty and The Estée Lauder Companies, totals $1.2 million and is a combination cash prize, sponsored by the companies, and direct investments in the Prize Winners by Trousdale Ventures. Awards were allocated to the winners as follows: $600,000 for Sway, $250,000 for Zerocircle, and $150,000 for Notpla. A Milestone Award of $200,000 was paid out equally to all finalists in 2022.

“As an innovation-focused investment firm in search of companies designing a brighter future, we are thrilled to join Lonely Whale as the Prize’s exclusive venture capital partner to invest in the three winners of the Tom Ford Plastic Innovation Prize,” said Phillip Sarofim, founder of Trousdale Ventures. “Accelerating access to capital for innovators like Sway, Zerocircle and Notpla is critical to scale marine-safe alternatives to single-use plastics made from fossil fuels. Our investment in the Prize recipients aims to further that cause.”

Following the award of the Prize Purse, Lonely Whale will launch an Innovation Accelerator sponsored by Tom Ford Beauty and The Estée Lauder Companies, designed to ensure Prize winners achieve widespread market adoption of their innovative alternatives to traditional thin-film materials. Further details will be announced in June 2023.

Brands interested in joining the Early Adopter Coalition can reach out to [email protected] for more information.