Innovations to solve the ever-growing problem of plastic pollution

On 21st June 2018, Minesoft sponsored a local paddle-boarding event organised by the Richmond BID (Business Investment District) to raise awareness of plastic pollution in the River Thames. Plastic pollution in our oceans and rivers is a growing problem, as shown by the recent launch of the New Plastic Economy Innovation Prize, an initiative to find new and innovative alternatives to plastic packaging.

The World Economic Forum warned that there would be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050. Globally, production of plastics exceeds 300 million tonnes per annum and only a small percentage of this is recycled. At least 8 million tonnes of plastic are dumped in the ocean every year, a large proportion ultimately ends up in one of the five major ocean gyres; drawn in by winds and ocean currents. The largest of these gyres, dubbed the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” spans 1.6 million square kilometres – more than twice the size of France.

Pollution of the environment with plastic is a global environmental problem. There is extensive evidence that entanglement in plastics can cause injury and death to a wide range of marine organisms. From coral reefs smothered in plastic bags, to turtles gagging on straws, to whales and seabirds that starve because their bellies are so full of plastic that there’s no room left for real food.

Over the past few years, scientists and researchers have created a variety of compostable plastic substitutes. However, there is still a lot to be done in terms of biodegradability in the marine environment as some materials that are compostable on land in certain conditions are unable to biodegrade in the sea.

Following the launch of the New Plastic Economy Innovation Prize in 2017, innovators worldwide have been invited to take part in The Circular Materials Challenge. The $1 million challenge aimed to find better packaging solutions to stop plastics becoming waste. The below five winning entries showcase alternative materials that could be recycled or composted.

The University of Pittsburgh team applies nano-engineering to create a recyclable material that can replace complex multi-layered non-recyclable packaging. The material mimics the way nature uses just a few molecular building blocks to create a huge variety of materials.

Aronax Technologies Spain proposes a magnetic additive that can be applied to a material, creating better air and moisture insulation – making it suitable to protect sensitive products such as coffee and medical products, while still being recyclable.

Working together, Full Cycle Bioplastics, Elk Packaging, and Associated Labels and Packaging make a compostable high-performance material from renewable materials, agricultural by-products and food waste to pack a broad range of products from granola bars and crisps to laundry detergent.

The VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has created a compostable multi-layer material from agricultural and forestry by-products, which could be used for stand-up food pouches for products like muesli, nuts, dried fruit and rice.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC has developed a coating with silicate and biopolymers that can be used in many different food packaging applications protecting biopolymer packaging and food against premature degradation and is fully compostable.

Innovation is necessary, but the key priority is to focus on reducing the quantity of plastic waste generated by society. It is changing our own behaviours, choices and actions that will save our oceans, and the most important challenge is to improve the way we design, manage, recycle and re-use plastic.

This summer, the Minesoft team highlighted the problem of plastic pollution in our own back garden by participating in and sponsoring the Stand-Up Paddle Board (SUP) Event along the River Thames, from Kew Bridge to Richmond in south-west London, where our head office is based. Minesoft was very proud to be sponsoring this event and cheering our own Ladies Team paddle boarding on the River Thames. The locally organised event was a new initiative to reduce the number of single use plastic items in London`s waterways.

Find out more about the event here.