Innovative materials companies using seaweed and other plant sources to create biodegradable alternatives to single-use plastic films are among the eight finalists for this year’s Tom Ford Plastic Innovation Prize.
Created in 2020 by fashion designer Ford and environmental action organization Lonely Whale, the award is billed as “the only global competition focused on creating scalable and biologically degradable alternatives to thin-film plastic polybags.” The winner, to be announced in spring 2023, will receive $1.2 million and three years of financial and advisory support to achieve market adoption.
The Texas-born Ford grew to international fame by spearheading a new era of profitability for Gucci before launching his own brand. In this venture, the goal is to combat the five million metric tons of plastic film that make up 46% of all ocean plastic leakage. He and his fellow judges will select the company “best positioned for growth.” Here are this year’s finalists.
Genecis: This Canadian company converts food waste into biodegradable plastics and other materials. Its PHBV plastic functions like an oil-based plastic but can be composted within a month of the end of its life and degrades within a year if it enters the ocean.
Kelpi: Partnered with the UK’s University of Bath, Kelpi creates compostable, low-carbon bioplastic packaging from seaweed, which stores carbon while it re-oxygenates the ocean. The company says its marine-safe material will decompose in less than a year.
Lwanda Biotech: The Kenyan “environmental remediation social enterprise” produces Biotic, a sustainably sourced, biobased, biodegradeable alternative to plastic packaging for use in the food and beverage industry. Derived from blending fiber composites of agricultural waste feedstock with a non-toxic, inert plasticizer, Biotic looks, feels, and functions like petroleum-based materials and is a direct drop-in replacement.
Marea: The Icelandic marine bioplastics firm uses sustainable local algae streams in its Tharaplast films. Algal bioplastics are durable thanks to their high-value compounds, and Iceland’s environment is ideal for sustainably sourcing the material, the company said.
Notpla: Another producer of seaweed-based materials, based in London, Notpla’s materials include Ooho, which is 100% edible and will degrade in four to six weeks, “just like a piece of fruit,” the company said. “Or you can just eat it, making it ideal for on-the-go consumption!”
Sway: The only US company in the final eight, California-based Sway partners with overfished communities to cultivate seaweed from regenerative farms. The company turns different species of seaweed and other plant-based additives into home-compostable plastic packaging replacements that come in multiple colors.
Xampla: The University of Cambridge spinoff’s plant protein polymer biodegrades with no chemical assistance. The company will focus on how its material can be applied to single-use polybags.
Zerocircle: This Indian company also turns locally cultivated seaweed into ocean-safe packaging materials that are transparent, heat sealable, printable, food-safe, and home compostable. The material meets the food safety, thermal, mechanical, and barrier requirements of the brands Zerocircle works with, the company said. “Unlike PLA, our product degrades in seawater. Unlike biobased alternatives, it does not emit methane when it degrades.”