But efforts can’t only be about cleanup, they have to halt the manufacture of virgin plastic in the first place. It’s with this goal in mind that a global cohort of innovators are competing in the TOM FORD Plastic Innovation Prize, a unique science competition to remake disposable thin-film plastic — widely used for things like sandwich baggies and as packaging to protect clothing and consumer electronics during shipping — from less-harmful (and ideally regenerative, biologically degradable) materials.
Behind the competition is American fashion designer Tom Ford and ocean health non-profit Lonely Whale. This week they announced eight finalists, who share in an award of $200,000 to encourage the development of their technologies. Their products range from completely compostable packaging made of seaweed to replacements for plastic made from plant protein.
“What we accomplish together through this competition will catalyze global change across continents, countries and industries, which is urgently needed to address plastic pollution,” Ford says. “If the ocean is polluted and in danger, then so is the planet and so are we.”
The finalists, eco-startups from all over the world, tap alternative materials drawn from nature, such as bacteria, seaweed, algae, peas, and sugar cane. They are: Genecis from Canada, Lwanda Biotech from Kenya, Marea from Iceland, Sway from the US; and Zerocircle from India. Hailing from the UK, there are Kelpi, Notpla, and Xampla, a University of Cambridge spinout inspired by the strength of spider silk, turning proteins, from common plant sources like peas, into high-performance plastic-alternative materials.