Sway, Zerocircle, and Notpla are this year's Tom Ford Plastic Innovation Prize winners. The global material science competition was created in 2020 in partnership with the anti-plastic pollution nonprofit Lonely Whale. It is the only competition focusing on biodegradable and scalable solutions to thin-film plastic polybags.
A $1.2 million prize purse, a combination of cash prize and direct investment, is to be split among the winners to help scale their marine-safe and biologically degradable alternatives. The prizes are a combination of cash and direct investment presented by title sponsor Tom Ford Beauty, The Estée Lauder Companies, and Trousdale Ventures.
Ford said of the competition, “I started this Prize three years ago with a harrowing fear that the world our children would inherit would no longer be a liveable one. I wanted to be a part of the solution, not be an arbiter of the problem. If we did nothing about the waste and pollution flooding our oceans the disruption to our planet would be irreconcilable.
“Watching the brilliant minds within this competition has given me extraordinary hope in making the impossible possible. Our three winners have created truly viable alternatives—alternatives that when scaled across markets and industries will drastically change the course of the health of our planet.”
The three winners were selected following a nine-month testing phase to ensure their materials are biologically degradable, minimize negative social and environmental impacts, meet industry performance standards, and are also cost-competitive, scalable, and market-ready. The tests included field testing in Caribbean waters and in-lab testing led by the New Materials Institute at the University of Georgia. The Seattle Aquarium led in situ field testing in Pacific Northwest waters and a bespoke, first-of-its-kind laboratory-based test designed to model what would happen in a marine mammal gut if the materials were ingested.
First Place: Sway, an American company offering seaweed-based, home-compostable replacements for regenerative thin-film plastic packaging at scale, will receive an investment of $600,000.
Second Place: Zerocircle, an Indian company making wildlife and ocean-safe packaging materials from locally cultivated seaweed that will dissolve harmlessly in the ocean after use, was awarded an investment of $250,000.
Third Place: Notpla, a London start-up inspired by the way nature encapsulates liquids, is on a mission to make plastic waste disappear by pioneering natural-membrane packaging that uses seaweed as an alternative to single-use plastic; the company received an investment of $150,000.
In addition, a Milestone Award of $200,000 was paid out equally to all eight finalists in 2022 who were at the forefront of the fight against packaging waste, with enterprises creating materials from alternatives such as bacteria (Genecis), seaweed (Kelpi, Sway, Notpla), algae (Marea), and peas (Xampla). The initiatives stem from regions ranging from India (Zerocircle) to Kenya (Lwanda Biotech).
Lonely Whale also announced the launch of an Innovation Accelerator sponsored by Tom Ford Beauty and The Estée Lauder Companies, designed to ensure prizewinners achieve widespread market adoption of their innovative alternatives to traditional thin film.
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