Meet the Innovators Who Will Share a $1 M Prize to Stop Plastic Pollution

Six innovators won the Circular Design Challenge (part 1 of the New Plastics Economy Innovation Prize) earlier this month and will share a $1 million prize. The challenge focused on plastic packaging items that are too small or too complex to be recycled like shampoo sachets, wrappers, and coffee cup lids, which often end up as plastic pollution in the world’s oceans and environment.

So who are the winning innovators and what do their products do? The winners fall into three categories: rethinking grocery shopping, redesigning sachets, and reinventing coffee-to-go.

  1. Rethinking grocery shopping. Today’s supermarkets are full of single-use plastic packaging. By rethinking the way we get products to people around the world, innovators can design out waste.
    1. MIWA, from the 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.
    2. Algramo, a Chilean social enterprise, offers products in small quantities in reusable containers across a network of 1,200 local convenience stores in Chile.
  2. 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 in emerging markets. Those sachets are not recycled and many end up polluting the ocean.
    1. Evowar, an Indonesian startup, designs food wrappings and sachets (containing instant coffee or flavoring for noodles) made out of a seaweed-based material that can be dissolved and eaten.
    2. Delta, from the United Kingdom, offers a compact technology that allows restaurants to make and serve sauces in edible and compostable sachets.
  3. 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.
    1. CupClub, based in the United Kingdom, introduces a reusable cup subscription service, in which reusable cups can be dropped off at any participating store.
    2. TrioCup, from the United States, 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.

Winners will participate in the New Plastics Economy Accelerator Program, a 12-month program specifically designed to advance and scale their innovations.

Learn more about The New Plastics Economy Innovation Prize.

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Despite the auto manufacturing industry’s reputation for being a huge polluter, Ford Motor Company researchers have begun looking to nature to figure out how to be more sustainable. The gecko’s sticky toe pads might reveal some solutions.

For example, the glue used to adhere foams to plastics and metals can make disassembling car parts for recycling nearly impossible. But researchers are trying to figure out what magic enables the gecko’s pads to stick to most surfaces and release itself without creating a residue. Through a process called biomimicry, they hope to replicate the gecko and make their materials easily separable. 

If this innovative, lizard-inspired idea were to launch into a product, its various applications could drastically increase recycling rates across many different industries, according to Waste Dive.

Beyond recycling, Ford designers have started looking to biomimicry for nature-inspired technologies in the making of their products, not just in the post-consumer disposal. The automaker uses Unifi’s high-performance Repreve fiber, made from 100 percent recycled materials including plastic bottles, in its car seating materials and headliners. 

Recently, Ford hosted a forum with Procter & Gamble and The Biomimicry Institute for researchers to learn about biomimicry and how to apply it to everyday work. 

But the auto industry is still fraught with environmental “externalities”—the uncompensated cost of their manufacturing to consumers. Auto historian Mark S. Foster has estimated that “fully one-third of the total environmental damage caused by automobiles occurred before they were sold and driven.” He cited a study that estimated that fabricating one car produced 29 tons of waste and 1,207 million cubic yards of polluted air. Besides extracting petroleum and many other raw materials to process steel, plastics, glass, rubber and other products necessary to construct automobiles, the industry uses great amounts of energy.

According to Waste Dive, many municipalities and companies have high aspirations of reaching zero waste, however there are many obstacles that stand in the way of that goal. “Strong adhesives are one of those obstacles, creating a recycling challenge to which nobody has a solution.” 

Photo: Nils van Rooijen / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Download the Plastic Fantastic Infographic here.

Enviu and Impact Hub have launched the Plastic Fantastic Challenge across Europe, with special events taking place in Rotterdam, Munich, Athens, London, Stockholm and Bucharest. 

The initiative invites young entrepreneurs, industry and environmental experts to co-create game-changing business concepts that can drastically reduce plastic packaging waste. In a society where plastic is ubiquitous and omnipresent we are confronted with a “plastic paradox.” Plastic products help us protect and preserve food and other spoilable products better, which prevents waste. But the hazardous impact of plastic products has turned into an environmental disaster, as our oceans ended up as a dumpsite. According to Science [1}, around 8 million tonnes of plastic waste entering the world’s oceans every year.

Today, 63 percent of all plastic waste originates from plastic packaging, which is primarily designed for single-use. [2] 

“This issue is too big to solve on our own. In order to change a billion-euro industry, we need to work together with both the industry, experts, entrepreneurs and top universities in Europe”, says Stef van Dongen, founder and CEO of Enviu. “It will require the cooperation and co-creation of different stakeholders to come up with system-changing concepts.” 

Gabriela Gandel, global managing director at Impact Hub, shares this belief. “Collaboration across sectors and geographies is the only way to confront an issue of this magnitude,” she said. “This cross-Europe challenge offers key support to entrepreneurs both on and offline, bringing great ideas forward and ensuring that the most promising are realised”.

The ocean plastic problem has never been more visible on the public agenda, especially since young entrepreneur Boyan Slat started his Ocean Cleanup Project.

The political legislative process is traditionally slow, especially when a very strong lobby is influencing it. NGO programs deal primarily with public awareness. At the same time the plastic and packaging industry leaders are making pledges for a more sustainable future, but the reality is that cost is still by far the biggest driver in packaging innovation.

The Plastic Fantastic Challenge is unique in its inclusive approach; inviting both plastic haters, as well as plastic industry wonks, to work together toward sustainable solutions in order to reduce plastic waste.

The idea, In short, is simple: Love Plastic, Not Waste. 

The Plastic Fantastic Challenge is targeted at young entrepreneurs and students, as well as experts and professionals in industry, science and the environment. But everyone can join this European open innovation competition by subscribing, sharing and contributing to the business concepts that can be posted on

The call for innovative business ideas is open until Dec. 14th 2015. In the consecutive phases of the challenge, ideas are matched, teams are formed and concepts are further improved upon, with the support of an expert community.

The best teams are rewarded with a three-day intensive bootcamp at a central location in Europe. During this bootcamp the teams are coached and supported in perfecting their plans, before presenting them to a final jury. Final winners are awarded cash prizes and membership to their local Impact Hub for further mentoring and access to investors.

About Enviu

Enviu starts world-changing companies. They want the global economy to be inclusive and serve people and planet. Enviu is initiating mass collaboration and impact-driven entrepreneurship with products and services that improve the quality of life for large groups of people. Enviu is a partner for NGO’s, corporate foundations and family offices.

About Impact Hub

Impact Hubs are where change goes to work. Part innovation lab, part business incubator, and part community center, they offer members a unique ecosystem of resources, inspiration, and collaboration opportunities to grow impact. They believe a better world evolves through the combined accomplishments of creative, committed and compassionate individuals focused on a common purpose. 

More information on the Plastic Fantastic Challenge, Enviu or Impact Hub is available through Enviu communications. Contact Emiel Eigenraam   +31 6365 00 513 or


[1] Jambeck et al. (2015), Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean, Science, 347 (6223), 768-771; [2] Deloitte (2015), Increased EU Plastics Recycling Targets: Environmental, Economic and Social Impact Assessment, Plastic Recyclers Europe

By Elizabeth Glazner

If you pay attention to coffee (and who doesn’t?), then you may have heard the inventor of the single-serve coffee maker Keurig loses sleep at night over his invention. That’s because the little single-use coffee pods, called “K-cups,” that go into his machines are pure, unredeemable plastic waste. Mother Jones infamously estimated that in 2013 alone, Keurig produced 8.3 billion of those things—enough K-cups to wrap around the Equator 10.5 times.

Certainly a design that leaves enormous room for improvement. And yet, the Keurig coffee system isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, especially now that its patented design is up. In fact, current coffee industry reports state that Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts and McDonalds are going all in on the K-cup system, gaining market share from Keurig Green Mountain steadily, which made $4.7 billion on them last year. Landfills are already teeming with the consequences of America’s demand for convenience and choice, especially when caffeine is involved.

Rohan Marley, the chairman and founder of “sustainably grown, ethically farmed, and artisan-roasted premium coffee company” Marley Coffee, and also the son of reggae legend Bob Marley, wants to cut into that market share and cut plastic pollution too. His company just released a recyclable K-cup it bills as an “innovative, sustainable single-serve capsule in a recyclable format.” The “EcoCup” is compatible with most Keurig machines, and the company claims it is the first premium coffee brand to bring a sustainable solution to market, five years ahead of when Keurig itself has vowed to do so.

Marley’s announcement was simultaneous with Keurig’s promise to complete a complicated transition from a multi-layer design using No. 7 resins to fully recyclable polypropylene, but they are taking until 2020.

On a media tour stop in Los Angeles to promote his EcoCup, Marley explained the quick evolution of his revolution. After the Keurig machine patent expired more than two years ago, Mother Parkers Tea & Coffee out of Canada approached him with a desire to partner and crack the single-serve market. But Marley was reluctant. He thought, “What about the waste… Im going to get crucified.” 

Then, “a solution came that people thought couldn’t happen,” he said. “It’s a revolutionary product—the first of its kind.” He pulled apart a K-cup to show the biodegradable fiber pod, foil top and plastic cup, which looks sturdy enough to withstand the heat needed to brew the grounds. The capsules are supposed to be easy to recycle: peel off the lid of the pod, compost the grounds, discard the lid and filter, and recycle the outer cup. It’s not perfect; no single-use system could be. But it’s an evolution.

“You have to attempt. You have to create something, and then it gets better and better. We’re grassroots; yesterday we weren’t even close to where we are today.”

With a launch of 10,000 stores in North America, Marley expects to command 1 percent K-cup market share out of the box, which would bring revenues of $100 million. Brent Toevs, CEO of Marley Coffee, states “If we can convince 1 percent of the market to switch to our recyclable EcoCup, we estimate we can keep 100 million capsules out of landfills in one year alone.” 

One percent sounds small. But Marley says “That 1 percent is going to tell another 1 percent, so it’s gonna grow. One percent is a voice. We can create an impact. We revolutionized how to get a cup of coffee.”

15-15 Marley Coffee Jamaica

RELATED: Kill The Cup is a whole website devoted to vilifying the thing. ALSO: Here’s a product that separates the K-cup into parts you may be able to recycle.

Top photo credit: planetc1 / Foter / CC BY-SA

Humans always think they can improve upon nature. Take bananas. Growing in large clusters, each one is covered in its own sheath several millimeters thick. The tropical fruit has a good chance of being plucked from a tree in Costa Rica, tossed on a truck bed, then into a box with other bananas, shipped thousands of miles and eventually lobbed onto grocery store shelves, where it will be handled by who knows how many people until the right one comes along to pick it up, put it in a cart, toss it onto a counter and into a bag and then finally home to a kitchen counter where it will eventually be picked up, peeled and eaten.

The unadulterated banana has to be tough to withstand all that. And because of its natural wrapper, it is. But humans decided to give it a little help anyway, and so they began wrapping it in plastic. Of course, that plastic packaging will end up in a landfill forever, while the natural banana sheath will biodegrade in about a week. Nature clearly wins again.

In Berlin, a new kind of store has opened that eliminates all the excess material our groceries are wrapped in. At Original Unverpackt (Original Unpackaged) the goal is to create zero waste by making it easy for customers to purchase exactly how much they actually need, reducing overconsumption and waste. Original Unverpackt carries organic produce and other staples that customers put in their own reusable bags, plus a bulk bin system that includes dispensers for things like shampoo and even milk. Customers just bring their own containers.

Read the whole story by Khadija Khan on…

Photo above right courtesy

Photo at top: Sara Wolf and Milena Glimbovski,the creators of the Original Unverpackt. Credit: Plaid Zebra