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Winning Solutions for Plastic Pollution at the "Think Beyond Plastic" Competition

Editor’s Note: The Plastic Pollution Coalition is a global alliance of individuals, organizations and business working towards a world free of plastic pollution and its toxic impacts. Conservation International is a proud member of this group.

“My name is Ed, and I’m a former plastiholic,” said actor Ed Begley, Jr. to a packed auditorium as he opened the first annual 2013 Think Beyond Plastic innovation competition and conference. Think Beyond Plastic is a pilot project of Plastic Pollution Coalition, a global organization aimed at reducing the toxic impact of plastic pollution. The competition offered cash prizes to the top businesses with plastic pollution-reducing solutions, and the winners were announced at a recent conference in June held in Berkeley, California. Though participants began as competitors, by the end of the event, they had grown into a community of like­-minded entrepreneurs.

Actor Ed Begley, Jr. speaks at the Think Beyond Plastic conference.

Over 100 applicants from countries around the world submitted proposals, including Romania, Slovenia, Kenya, Malaysia, the United States, UAE and many others. The fact that the conference stayed away from plastic pollution disasters and focused on positive, forward­-thinking solution­s was a welcome shift for many. New York Times columnist and Think Beyond Plastic speaker Daniel Goleman commented, “We did not talk much about plastic pollution [itself, but rather there was] a great focus on the future.”

Tribe of Sustainable Business Leaders

Many attendees noted that they were excited to be with their “tribe” of sustainable business leaders from across the globe. In addition, entrepreneurs received coaching on developing their business structures to make them ready for investing. Impact investors had the opportunity to meet emerging entrepreneurs and hear about the wealth of ideas they had to offer.

By the end of the conference, many participants had positive comments:

“Our experience at Think Beyond Plastic, and being involved with such amazing innovators, has propelled us to build an even better product and opened the door to meeting and working with others in this industry, " said Crystal Plew of Amazi, a company in the development stage for an applet that allows the user to find fresh tap water anywhere in the world.

“[Think Beyond Plastic] gives us hope and reassurance that the work we do is meaningful,” said Christian Lane of in.gredients, a bulk grocery store in Austin, Texas focused on providing groceries with no packaging.

“The event itself felt much more like a celebration than a competition. In fact, we're so energized by the Think Beyond Plastic event that we've already begun mentoring a fresh new startup with a very compelling innovation for the 2014 competition,” said Paul Tasner of Pulpworks, Inc., manufacturers of environmentally friendly packaging for the consumer goods industry.

Example of Pulpworks' sustainable packaging.

And the winner is...!

The Think Beyond Plastic contest awarded two companies each with the Grand Prize or “Most Innovative Business” Award. The winners were DGrade (from the United Arab Emirates), a company that produces clothing made from a fabric of recycled plastic, and Pulpworks, Inc. (USA), which turns garbage into protective packaging that will decompose.

DGrade’s process involves cleaning and compressing discarded plastic bottles. Once crushed, recycled plastic flakes are heated and melted to produce long and short fibers for yarn production. The yarn can be woven or knitted into everyday products such as clothing and toys.

DGrade offers a line of clothing made from recycled plastic bottles.

PulpWorks offers an alternative to blister packs made with potentially toxic PVC, manufacturing sustainable packaging for the consumer goods industry by turning to the same material that’s been used for decades in cardboard egg cartons. Both businesses are based on a viable solution to the plastic pollution problem, and have successfully established revenue streams.

The companies each received a cash award of $10,000 from ASpark, an impact investor from The Netherlands, and $5,000 worth of legal services from Cooley LLP.

Think Beyond Plastic awarded three companies the “Most Promising Emerging Business” Award. The winners were Amazi (USA),  BYOB (Malaysia) – a consortium of businesses that reduce packaging by offering bulk products in their stores--and in.gredients (USA). They each received a cash award of $500 from Plastic Pollution Coalition, and a package of business services from Second Line, an impact investor.

The competition, conference, and awards ceremony, with nearly 200 participants, was a celebration of human ingenuity applied to the growing global threat of plastic pollution.