The Tom Ford Plastic Innovation Prize aims to end plastic pollution

Plastic pollution is one of the greatest threats to our oceans. According to the International Union for Conservation, approximately 14 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year. Plastics pose a huge threat to marine life when aquatic organisms ingest or become entangled in the debris, often resulting in injury or death. Plastics also pose a threat to human health. As they move up the food chain, for the first time in history, a recent study has revealed microplastics in human blood.

The focus of the Lonely Whale Foundation is to prevent plastic from entering the ocean. In partnership with fashion designer and director Tom Ford, they launched the TOM FORD Plastic Innovation Award. The competition aims to create scalable, biodegradable alternatives to thin-film plastic polybags. The total purse: 1.2 million dollars.

“What we accomplish together through this competition will catalyze global change across continents, countries and industries that is urgently needed to tackle plastic pollution,” Ford said. “If the ocean is polluted and in danger, then so is the planet and so are we. The impact these brilliant minds and their creations will have on our planet is monumental, bringing us their innovative solutions to make the environment a safer place for generations to come.

Each year, approximately 180 billion thin-film plastic polybags are used by the fashion industry. This represents around 46% of the 14 million tonnes of annual plastic pollution in the oceans. The problem resonates with Internet users, unequivocally.

“Protecting the health of our oceans is very important,” said John John Florence, who serves as a judge in the competition, said. “I don’t know how I can emphasize this further beyond saying that I believe this is one of the biggest environmental issues we face. Ideally, alternatives to plastic lead to the cessation of plastic in the ocean – that’s the big goal.

Once participants submitted their prototypes, their submissions were subjected to rigorous review by the Scientific and Technical Advisory Board and the judging panel. After extensive review, eight finalists were chosen from 64 entries based on the ingenuity and feasibility of their designs.

Among the finalists is Genecis, which reprograms bacteria to make high-end materials from low-value organic waste. Kelpi uses seaweed to create compostable, sea-safe, low-carbon bioplastic packaging. Lwanda Biotech is tackling plastic pollution and agricultural waste at the community level by developing alternatives to thin-film plastic packaging.

Marea harnesses local sustainable algae fluxes to create a repeatable model of fully biodegradable thin film alternatives. Sway offers algae-based home compostable substitutes for thin-film plastic packaging, aiming to offer a carbon-negative material at scale. Xampla transforms proteins from common plant sources into high-performance plastic alternatives. Finally, Zerocircle makes wildlife and ocean safe packaging materials from locally grown seaweed and dissolves after use.

“The ambition of this award is unprecedented and poised to claim the biggest business shift away from non-recyclable thin-film plastic,” said Lonely Whale Foundation CEO Dr Dune Ives. “We have long believed that the solutions to the plastic waste crisis exist, and by working together, we can ensure a plastic-free future in the ocean.”

Now that finalists have been selected, they will begin a year-long materials testing phase to ensure their materials are biodegradable, minimize negative social and environmental impacts, meet industry performance standards, and are competitive. , scalable and ready for the market in 2025.

The testing program includes field testing in Caribbean and Pacific Northwest waters, as well as laboratory testing led by the University of Georgia’s New Materials Institute and the Seattle Aquarium. In addition, the materials of the finalists must be tested by several major brands in order to ensure the immediate replacement of non-recyclable polybags.

“The ocean is a special place, so I feel a responsibility to help solve problems and take care of something that is so near and dear to me,” says Florence. “I’m just one person and maybe I don’t approach the issues perfectly. But I’m learning every day and I’m happy to take up the challenge with the TOM FORD Plastics Innovation Award group. The fact that this contest addresses plastics and ocean health is what makes me love it.

Bryce K. Locke