From food wrappers to shampoo bottles, plastics are all around us, and the demand for them is expected to double in the next 20 years. But, today’s ‘take-make-dispose’ plastics system is broken. Most plastic items are used only once before being discarded, often polluting our environment. In fact, if nothing changes, there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050.

Innovators, scientists and entrepreneurs around the world are being called upon to help fundamentally rethink the way we use plastics so they don’t become waste in the first place. Today, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in partnership with leading global innovation firm NineSigma, announced the launch of the Circular Materials Challenge to make all plastic packaging recyclable. Solution providers are competing for up to $1 million in grants to be shared equally by up to five winners. Winners of the challenge will also have access to The New Plastics Economy Innovation Accelerator, a 12-month program offering exclusive connections with industry experts, commercial guidance, feedback on user and scalability requirements, advice on performance expectations, and entry to innovation labs for testing and development.

The Circular Materials Challenge is part of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s $2 million New Plastics Economy Innovation Prize, launched in collaboration with The Prince of Wales's International Sustainability Unit, to help build a circular economy for plastics by developing new materials, redesigning packaging, and eliminating waste. The prize is funded by Wendy Schmidt, Lead Philanthropic Partner of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy initiative. The challenge has been scoped in close coordination with the initiative’s more than 40 participants, including Core Partners Amcor, The Coca-Cola Company, Danone, MARS, Novamont, PepsiCo, Unilever, and Veolia.

“If we want to effect broad systems change, we need to rethink the way we make plastic items,” says Dame Ellen MacArthur, Founder, Ellen MacArthur Foundation. “That’s why we are calling for scientific and technical experts from around the globe to help us keep these materials in the economy, and out of the ocean.”

About 13 percent of today’s packaging is made of layers of different materials fused together. This multi-layer construction meets important needs like keeping food fresh, but also makes the packaging hard to recycle. The challenge, therefore, invites innovators to find alternative materials that can be recycled or composted.

The judging panel for the challenge consists of senior executives from major businesses, widely recognized scientists, designers and academics. Solutions will be assessed against a broad range of criteria carefully crafted in collaboration with the challenge partners and participants of the New Plastics Economy initiative.   

“The collective expertise, technologies and support of our business and innovation community is critical to forging this kind of change,” said NineSigma CEO Dr. Andy Zynga. “We are thrilled to help the Ellen MacArthur Foundation reach experts that can contribute upstream solutions that will redefine the future of plastics in support of a circular economy.”

Responses to the Circular Materials Challenge are due by October 20, 2017, at 5 p.m. US EDT. Solution providers can submit proposals through NineSigma’s Open Innovation community For more information and updates on the challenge, please visit