One of the main challenges that has been facing the plastics industry in the past decade has been dealing with the influx of plastics waste to the world’s oceans. According to the Ocean Conservancy, about 8 million metric tonnes of plastics enter the world’s oceans each year.

Given the importance of plastics to our modern way of life, and the myriad benefits provided by plastic products, it is unlikely that the use of plastic in fields as diverse as packaging, high-tech engineering, and the medical field will decline any time soon. Fortunately, the plastics industry is full of innovative companies working to solve the problem.

This blog has published several stories already about attempts to clean up the oceans. The most prolific is likely the story of the Ocean Cleanup Project, which we wrote about last month. That project aims to remove plastics from the Pacific Ocean using autonomous floating plastics collection systems. The large scale and ambition of the project has captured the public’s imagination.

Ocean Cleanup alone will not be enough to solve the problem of plastics entering the ocean. Enter the “Ocean Plastic Innovation Challenge”, a competition organized by the National Geographic Society and Sky Ocean Ventures. In the tradition of the innovation prizes that began with a reward for developing a method for measuring longitude at sea in the early 1700s and continued with the X-Prize for private space launches. In this iteration, three prizes are being offered, each for the best proposed solution to three unique problems.

The first prize goes to the best innovation for better packaging systems. The goal is not necessarily to replace plastic – instead, competitors may develop biodegradable plastics packaging or innovative ways to package products using less materials. Not only would this help the environment – it would also reduce costs for plastics manufacturers.

The second prize will go to the developer of the best zero-waste business model. Such business models are essential if we are to perfect the “circular economy” – an idea that has been in vogue in the plastics industry for several years already.

The final prize will go to the designer who comes up with the most innovative, intuitive, and accessible strategy for communicating the challenges posed by ocean waste.

Semi-finalists will be selected in July. Teams will then have until November to perfect their ideas before the final winners are selected in December. We’ll be sure to report the results of this exciting competition here!