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$2 million prize for recycled plastic design challenge

A new design challenge supported by Dame Ellen MacArthur and the Prince of Wales asks innovators to come up with solutions to combat plastic waste.

The prize is made up of two $1 million challenges, one aimed at product designers to make small plastic packaging easier to reuse or recycle and another aimed at materials scientists that aims to make plastic materials more recyclable.

At present, only about 14 per cent of plastic packaging is recycled. Must of the rest winds up in landfill, or worse in sensitive environments like the nation’s oceans.

Much of the driving inspiration for the recycling challenge comes from Dame Ellen MacArthur, who is dedicated to the idea of a circular economy – where products and resources are mostly used and re-used instead of being wasted.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s $1 million Circular Design Challenge aims to stop small plastic packaging like shampoo sachets, wrappers, straws and coffee cup lids from ending up in the oceans.

The $1 million Circular Materials Challenge asks materials scientists, entrepreneurs and anyone else who has a good idea to think of ways to make all plastic packaging recyclable. Many food wrappers and crisp packets, for example, are made from layers of different materials that are fused together.

Although these kinds of materials serve a good purpose insofar as they keep food fresher for longer, they also make this kind of packaging much harder to recycle.

If you think you want to tackle the challenge then this list of recycling ‘villains’ drafted by the Recycling Association might provide some inspiration or a starting place.

The list includes:

  • Pringles cans (and products with similar packaging) – which are made up of several different materials that are difficult to separate.
  • Lucozade Sport (and drinks with similar packaging) – where the bottle is covered in a plastic sleeve made from a different type of plastic. These have to be picked out of recycling plants by hand.
  • Cleaning spray bottles – where the spraying mechanism is made up of different types of plastic and often small bits of metal.
  • Black plastic food trays – which supermarkets use to make meat look redder, but also makes the plastic impossible to recycle.
  • Whisky packaging – which uses a combination of materials including a metal base and top which can be difficult to separate.

Other plastic products that can be tackled are coffee cup lids and crisp packets which are made by fusing together lots of materials.

The Circular Design Challenge and Circular Materials Challenge allow innovators, materials scientists and entrepreneurs to compete for up to $2 million of funding and grants.

Challenge winners will enter a 12-month accelerator program with access to industry experts, commercial guidance and lots of feedback to help your idea take effect in the real world.

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