Ellen MacArthur, Prince Charles and John Kerry team up to launch $2m prize to rid the seas of plastics

Oliver Gill
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Former winner of the 'Route du Rhum 2002
Ellen MacArthur has championed the need for a "circular economy" (Source: Getty)

Dame Ellen MacArthur, Prince Charles and John Kerry are today launching a campaign to rid the world's seas of plastics.

The sailing icon's foundation has $2m (£1.5m) of prize money on offer across two categories for the best ideas.

Around 14 per cent of global plastic packaging is recycled. MacArthur wants to find ways to make plastic packaging recyclable and prevent it getting into the sea.

Read more: Ellen MacArthur at Davos: "I’ve never done anything as important as this"

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation said there could be more plastic in the seas than fish by 2050 if remedial action is not taken.

"We must fundamentally rethink the way we make and use plastics. We need better materials, clever product designs and circular business models," MacArthur said.

That’s why we are launching the New Plastics Economy Innovation Prize, calling for innovators, designers, scientists and entrepreneurs to help create a plastics system that works.

Joining the Prince of Wales and MacArthur is former US secretary of state John Kerry.

He said: “Focusing on ocean health, focusing on an initiative to save the oceans, could not be more timely, and it could not be more critical.”

Read more: M&S in clothes recycling drive

Meanwhile, the UK Recycling Association has named the worst offending items. Chief executive Simon Ellin explained to the BBC his least recyclable items:

  1. Pringles or similar: "These things are a... nightmare. Impossible to separate the parts."
  2. Lucozade Sport and drinks with similar packaging: "This bottle is so confusing to computer scanners that it has to be picked by hand off the recycling conveyor. Then it often just gets chucked away."
  3. Cleaning spray bottles: "Labels often say the product is recyclable, but that’s only the body. The spray has two or three other polymers and a metal spring. It’s almost impossible."
  4. Black plastic food trays: "Supermarkets think black trays make meat look redder so they colour the tray black but that makes it worthless for recycling. Also, if someone leaves the torn film on the tray, with a bloody card below it, we just have to chuck it anyway."
  5. Whisky packaging: “The metal bottom and top to the sleeve, the glass bottle, the metal cap... very hard for us."

The two prizes

1. The $1m Circular Design Challenge invites applicants to rethink how we can get products to people without generating plastic waste. The Challenge will focus on small-format packaging items (10 per cent of all plastic packaging) such as shampoo sachets, wrappers, straws and coffee cup lids, which are currently almost never recycled and often end up in the environment. Anyone with a good idea for how to get products to people without using disposable packaging, or for how to design plastic packaging that is easier to recycle, can enter this challenge.

Challenge partner is OpenIDEO.

2. The $1m Circular Materials Challenge seeks ways to make all plastic packaging recyclable. About 13 per cent of today’s packaging, such as crisp packets and food wrappers, is made of layers of different materials fused together. This multi-layer construction provides important functions like keeping food fresh, but also makes the packaging hard to recycle. The challenge therefore invites innovators to find alternative materials that could be recycled or composted.

Challenge partner is NineSigma.

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