With 8 million tonnes of plastic entering the ocean each year, we urgently need to change the way we make and use plastics, so that they don’t become waste in the first place. A host of announcements from major CPG companies and NGOs today from the Our Ocean 2017 conference in Malta signal the ongoing momentum behind the issue.
In May, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) and the Prince of Wales’s International Sustainability Unit launched the $2m New Plastics Economy Innovation Prize. Today at Our Ocean, the Prize, funded by Wendy Schmidt as Lead Philanthropic Partner of the EMF’s New Plastics Economy initiative, announced the winners of the first phase of the prize - the $1m Circular Design Challenge, run in collaboration with OpenIDEO. The Challenge focused on the 30 percent of plastic packaging that is either too small or too complex to be recycled and often find their way into the ocean – such as shampoo sachets, wrappers and coffee cup lids. More than 600 innovators from over 60 countries from across the world participated.
The Circular Design Challenge winners fall into three categories:
Rethinking grocery shopping. Today’s supermarkets are full of single-use plastic packaging to keep our groceries safe and fresh. Yet by rethinking the way we get products to people around the world, innovators can design out waste.
- MIWA (Czech Republic) introduces an app that lets shoppers order the exact quantities of the groceries they need, which are then delivered in reusable packaging from the producer to their closest store or to their home.
- Algramo (Chile) offers products in small quantities in reusable containers across a network of 1,200 local convenience stores in Chile.
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Redesigning sachets. Hundreds of billions of sachets are sold each year to get small quantities of personal care and food products, such as shampoo and soy sauce, to people mostly in emerging markets. While companies such as Unilever are developing technologies to recycle sachets, they are currently not recycled and many end up polluting the ocean.
- Evoware (Indonesia) designs food wrappings and sachets made out of a seaweed-based material that can be dissolved and eaten.
- Delta (UK) offers a compact technology that allows restaurants to make and serve sauces in edible and compostable sachets.
Reinventing coffee-to-go. More than 100 billion disposable coffee cups are sold globally every year, yet today almost none of them (nor their lids) are recycled.
- CupClub (UK) introduces a reusable cup subscription service, in which reusable cups can be dropped off at any participating store.
- TrioCup (US) offers a disposable paper cup made with an origami-like technique that removes the need for a plastic lid. The team has chosen a 100 percent compostable material and is working on an alternative that is 100 percent recyclable.
Starting in 2018, the winning innovators will join a 12-month accelerator program in collaboration with Think Beyond Plastic, where they will work with mentors and expert advisors from the plastics industry and investor community to refine their design prototypes and scale them to become marketable solutions.
The Circular Design Challenge is the first part of the New Plastics Economy Innovation Prize. The winners of the second part, the Circular Materials Challenge, will be announced at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos in January 2018.
While the winning innovations represent the type of solutions needed to build a plastics system that works, these entrepreneurs cannot drive the transition alone. Major businesses, governments, and investors must make clear commitments and collaborate towards a circular economy for plastics.
Six participants in the EMF’s New Plastics Economy initiative - MARS, M&S, PepsiCo, The Coca-Cola Company, Unilever and Werner & Mertz - are pledging (or reiterating a pledge) in Malta today to use 100 percent reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025 at the latest. This is a major step forward, and the EMF is calling on the whole industry to follow their lead, as well as to make commitments that ensure all packaging is not just recyclable, but also in practice recycled, reused or composted.
One critical action is to increase demand for recycled materials. Consumer goods producer Werner & Mertz’s pledge today to use 100 percent recycled content in all its consumer packaging by 2025 sets a great example for others to follow. A critical mass of such commitments is essential to move towards a new plastics economy in which no plastic becomes waste.
"Plastics in the ocean are a clear sign of a broken system, as this was never intended to happen. That is why rethinking the way we make and use plastics is so crucial: how can we capture the material’s benefits, retain its value and make sure it does not end up where it does not belong?” Dame Ellen MacArthur said. “Designers and innovators responding to our challenge have displayed tremendous creativity.
“The combination of the winning entries announced today and the companies committing to 100 percent reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025 will help us get closer to a waste-free circular economy."
Also at the Our Ocean event, Ocean Conservancy — along with partners including the Trash Free Seas Alliance®, Closed Loop Partners, PepsiCo, 3M, Procter & Gamble, the American Chemistry Council, and the World Plastics Council — announced an initiative to raise over $150 million for a new funding mechanism to prevent plastic waste from leaking into the oceans.
The initiative is designed to fund waste management and recycling solutions in Southeast Asia, with a focus on investments to improve collection, sorting and recycling markets. Nearly half of the plastic that flows into the ocean every year – an estimated 8 million metric tons – escapes from waste streams in just five rapidly developing Asian economies (Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand and China).
“This is a major breakthrough in the fight for trash-free seas,” said Susan Ruffo, managing director of international initiatives at Ocean Conservancy. “Our research has found that by improving waste management in Southeast Asian countries, we can cut the flow of plastic going in the ocean by half by 2025. A funding mechanism will take this goal from dream to reality, and support efforts by governments and local groups on the ground to improve their livelihoods and wellbeing, while also improving ocean health.”
Scientists estimate that over 150 million metric tons of plastics are currently in the ocean today, entangling wildlife, polluting beaches, and costing coastal communities hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. That number could grow to 250 million metric tons in less than a decade if immediate action isn’t taken.
The new funding mechanism will be operated by Closed Loop Partners, an investment firm that invests in companies, technology and recycling facilities to turn waste into value and advance the circular economy. The new mechanism will catalyze new investments from the private sector, governments and development finance institutions; demonstrate ecosystem solutions; and build a pipeline of bankable waste management projects to demonstrate investment viability and maximize recycling profitability.
“Through this initiative, we will invest in and support the municipalities, entrepreneurs, investors and NGOs working to reduce ocean plastics and improve waste management in Southeast Asia,” said Rob Kaplan of Closed Loop Partners. “Our investments across North America — from recycling collection in Tennessee to developing new end markets for waste plastics in Louisiana — have resulted in tangible improvements to waste collection and recycling. Our model is to take the best practices in waste management investment, leverage the world’s largest consumer goods supply chains, and marry them with on-the-ground partner expertise and work.”
Effective waste management reduces plastics waste leakage, leads to healthier citizens, creates jobs, and reduces emissions of toxins and carbon. It is also a critical component to making a circular economy function, ensuring that materials can be recovered for reuse and recycling. This initiative aims to solve the root causes of plastics in the ocean by investing in the systems and emerging technologies needed to capture and transform waste into valuable commodities before it reaches marine environments, while also providing tangible benefits to communities.
Consumer goods companies and plastics manufacturers support the project. Early commitments from PepsiCo, 3M, Procter & Gamble, the American Chemistry Council and the World Plastics Council have fully funded the design phase of the fund.
“P&G is proud to be a part of this initiative,” said Jack McAneny, Director of Sustainability at P&G. “Plastics play an important role in commerce, but they clearly don’t belong in our waterways and oceans. Thanks to the vision of Ocean Conservancy, we now have a multi-stakeholder collaborative effort that can drive the kind of innovation and scale that we need to stop the flow of plastics to the environment and ideally give these materials a second life.”
The initiative aims to share the results of its initial phase of work within the next year to help build the field of investors looking to deploy capital into this market.
Speaking of P&G, the company made an announcement of its own today from Our Ocean, as it unveiled its new Fairy Ocean Plastic bottle made completely from post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic and ocean plastic, created in partnership with recycling expert TerraCycle, which will reach British consumers in 2018. The UK launch will include 320,000 bottles, the largest production run of recyclable dish soap bottles in the world made using ocean plastic. The innovative bottle will be made from 10 percent ocean plastic, collected from the ocean and beaches around the world, and 90 percent post-consumer recycled plastic.
“As the world’s no. 1 dishwashing liquid globally and a much-loved brand in the UK, we want to use Fairy to raise awareness about the plight of our ocean and raise awareness about the importance of recycling,” said Virginie Helias, VP of Global Sustainability at Procter & Gamble. “Our consumers care deeply about this issue and by using ocean plastic we hope to show that the opportunities are endless when we rethink our approach to waste.’’
‘’We are proud to be working with an iconic brand like Fairy to launch a fully recyclable bottle made from 100 percent recycled plastic and ocean plastic,” said TerraCycle CEO Tom Szaky. “The issue of ocean pollution is a pertinent one, we hope other brands will be inspired to think creatively about waste and make the circular economy a reality.’’
‘’We are thrilled that P&G is raising awareness of ocean plastic pollution amongst their consumers. P&G’s leadership on this issue, including through their participation in the Trash Free Seas Alliance, is critical to solving the ocean plastic crisis,” Ruffo said. “We are excited that in addition to its work to reach consumers directly through the Fairy bottles, they are also addressing the source of ocean plastic by supporting our initiative to raise over $150 million over the next five years to improve waste collection, sorting and recycling in key ocean plastic economies.”
The P&G Fairy Ocean Plastic bottle is the latest development in the company’s effort to divert plastic waste from landfill and the ocean – in January, it released the world’s first recyclable shampoo bottle made from up to 25 percent recycled beach plastic, also developed with TerraCycle, for its Head & Shoulders brand. In an effort to extend the initiative across other brands and regions, P&G will continue to divert 8,000 metric tonnes of plastic from landfill for use in transparent plastic bottles, using an average of 40 percent Post-Consumer Recycled plastic content across 481 million of its transparent dish care bottles globally. If stacked, these bottles would be 11 times the height of Mount Everest.