The Challenge

Combining an unrivalled range of properties with low cost, plastics have become an integral part of our daily lives. Yet the projected growth in their production and current volume of plastics escaping formal collection systems could lead by 2050 to the world’s oceans containing more plastics than fish. Packaging, the single largest application of plastics and the biggest source of ocean plastics, is particularly challenging.

The New Plastics Economy initiative, led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, aims to move the plastics value chain into a positive spiral of value capture, stronger economics, and better environmental outcomes.

So how can we make all plastics materials recyclable?

One of the most challenging segments of plastic packaging is multi-material laminated films. This group of materials has outstanding functional properties, combining several micro-meter thick layers of different materials that enable both light-weighting and excellent barrier properties. Unfortunately, multi-layer materials are very hard to recycle. So the vast majority of multi-material packaging end up in landfill, incinerated, or escape into the environment.

Replacing unrecyclable materials used in packaging to make them feasible to recycle or compost is a crucial intervention to create a more circular plastics economy.

The Circular Materials Challenge seeks to catalyse innovation, and help to advance the development of materials with the potential to become commercially viable, recyclable or compostable alternatives to the non-recyclable multi-material laminate films used in packaging today. The Challenge aims to stimulate the development of materials that could be captured and recycled or composted effectively, and at the same time have good enough properties to be used to package consumer products, such as food or personal care products. By identifying such materials this Challenge will bring us one step closer to creating a plastics system that works.

The solutions could be a completely new material, a new formulation or variant of existing materials, or existing materials used in a new way to create a recyclable mono-material or a fully bio-based, compostable mono- or multi-material that has the potential to:

  • provide barrier properties suitable for packaging liquid, moist or dry products.
  • be used to manufacture packaging for consumer products (for example, has suitable mechanical properties and is safe to use in food applications). Example packaging applications could include sachets, pouches, snack bags and food wrappings
  • be collected, recycled or composted after use, as part of a feasible collection and sorting route (either in widely used existing systems or a system that could be developed and used widely)

The challenge is open to all opportunities from early stage to more mature innovations that have the potential to manufactured at scale.


Download Full Challenge Brief