The five winners of the Circular Materials Challenge

Petroleum-based plastic is everywhere, because it is such a versatile and cheap material. However, only 14 per cent of all plastics is recycled, and a lot ends up polluting the environment. We have to rethink the way we make, use and re-use plastic. In order to do so, we need better materials, which is why the Ellen MacArthur Foundation launched New Plastics Economy Innovation Prize in 2017. One part of this prize is the Circular Materials Challenge, the winners of which were announced on 23 January. Find the 5 most innovative materials below!

University of Pittsburgh
The first winner in the category “Make unrecyclable packaging recyclable” was a team from the University of Pittsburgh (US). They apply nano-engineering to create a recyclable material to replace multi-layered packaging that is currently unrecyclable. The idea is to make food packaging (such as snack food bags and food pouches) from layers of a single material, polyethylene, which is easy to recycle. Each layer can be given different properties by changing its nano-scale structure, which when combined, create a much better material that can even be coloured without pigments.

Aronax Technologies Spain
The second winner in this category is the Aronax Technologies Spain, which proposes a magnetic additive that can be applied to a material. This magnetic additibe creates better air and moisture inulation and makes it suitable to protect sensitive products such as coffee and medicine. The additive, made from small particles of silicates and iron oxide, provides plastics with increased ability to block out gases such as oxygen, and can replace aluminium coatings in non-recyclable materials.

Full Cycle Bioplastics
The first winner in the category “ Combining materials that nature can handle” is Full Cycle Bioplastics, in collaboration with Elk Packaging, and Associated Labels and Packaging. They make a compostable, high-performance, multi-layered packaging film, to compete with the petroleum-based version. The material is made from PHA (a naturally occurring biopolymer), combined with cellulose-based materials.

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland
Winner in the same category is VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. They created a material built from two sorts of transparent wood cellulose: a fibrous cellulose (HefCel); and a plastic type cellulose (MMCC). These two materials have complementary barrier properties, and VTT has combined them into a compostable three-layer film, which looks and performs like plastic, but is entirely biobased and compostable. The films are processed in a way that does not introduce any unwanted or toxic chemicals.

Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC
The final winner, the Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC, developed an organic coating for plastic that makes fresh food packaging compostable. These new coatings can improve the capacity of biobased and biodegradable packaging so that they meet the performance standards to guarantee the required minimum shelf life of food products.

Photos: Circular Materials Challenge