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Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

How to challenge plastic waste

From compostable diapers to recyclable building material: meet the 30 semi finalists across 19 European countries that have been selected for the 2019 European Social Innovation Competition: Challenging Plastic Waste.

The yearly competition (now in its seventh edition) aims to stimulate the potential of social innovation to provide solutions to societal challenges and foster sustainable and inclusive growth in Europe. This year’s edition is looking for ideas and projects that reduce plastic waste by changing and improving existing processes or by introducing brand-new products and initiatives.

We received over 500 applications from across 42 different countries all of which have been assessed against the judging criteria. The Judging Panel consisting of experts in the field of plastic waste were tasked with selecting the 30 most promising ideas. This wasn’t an easy decision to make as the standard of all of the submitted ideas was exceptionally high. Selected entrants will now go on to receive support from experienced social innovators to further develop their ideas.

Plastic waste is a complex issue that needs to be tackled on multiple levels. One of the judges’ takeaways for innovators working directly or in-directly in the plastic waste field worldwide , is that it’s crucial to focus on upstream solutions. These get to the heart of the problem by addressing systemic issues rather than being purely reactive. This way, new solutions can contribute to creating different ways of doing things which is more sustainable from a long-term perspective. Recycling, however important, is only part of the solution to reduce plastic waste. Zero Waste Europe has recently published an article with updated Waste Hierarchy. It explores two other sustainable approaches to reducing plastic waste: redesigning products and its components to make them waste-free by design and reusing products where waste cannot be prevented.

photo of plastic bag on a tree branch

What happens next?

All 30 semi finalists will now receive:

  • Support from a dedicated coach based in their respective country
  • A three day residential Academy in Turin, Italy where they will participate in various workshops, lectures and exercises covering areas such as marketing, user testing, pitching, business plan development and many others.
  • Ongoing peer support and networking with fellow semi finalists
  • Access to an online pool of social innovation experts from across Europe
  • A series of webinars and other exciting opportunities to support their growth until the end of the competition.

The semi finalists will then submit their Development Plan in August 2019 providing more detail about their ideas and their plans for implementation. The Judging Panel will meet once again to select 10 finalists and then 3 winners who will each be awarded EUR 50,000, at the Awards Ceremony in Brussels, Belgium in October 2019. To follow the progress of the competition and receive the latest updates follow us on Twitter: @EUSocialInnov.

The 30 semi finalists can be found below:

  • Apaga (Armenia) - A recycling reward programme based on a digital platform to foster community, education and commitment.
  • DYCLE - Diaper Cycle (Germany) - 100% bio-based diaper inlays that can be composted and turned into fertile soil after use.
  • Edible plates and cutlery (Bulgaria) - 100% biodegradable, compostable and edible plates and cutlery.
  • Ekomodo (Spain) - Locally-made eco-designed recyclable products made from innovative, 100% recycled plastic materials.
  • Empower (Norway) - A digital plastic waste collection system, through which plastic waste can be deposited for a financial reward.
  • Evegreen biodegradable material solution (Slovenia) - A replacement material for plastic made from biodegradable materials generated from agro-waste.
  • FunPlastic Toys (Greece) - Using toys to inspire four to seven year olds to fight plastic waste in the oceans.
  • Green Sail (Croatia) - An education programme to reduce the amount of plastic waste in the charter yacht industry.
  • Interactive map of all free public drinking water sources in Bulgaria (Bulgaria) - A detailed map of all drinking water sources in Bulgaria.
  • Kidibot Plastic Battles (Romania) - A futuristic educational game that teaches children about the impact of plastic waste on our planet.
  • Koepala Aterimo (Finland) - Flat and functional takeaway food packaging that reduces plastic use by up to 50%.
  • LAM’ON (Bulgaria) - A 100% biodegradable laminating film made from renewable resources to seal and preserve printed materials.
  • Litter Traps & Recycled Park (Netherlands) - Litter traps placed in rivers to collect and recycle plastic waste.
  • Luft parcel (United Kingdom) - A returnable parcel enabling online retailers to eliminate single use plastic and other packaging materials for postal deliveries to customers.
  • MIWA solution for plastics reduction (Czech Republic)- An innovative, financially sustainable circular distribution and sales system for food and non-food products with reusable packaging.
  • Le Pavé par Sasminimum (France) - A recycling system that transforms plastic waste into building materials.
  • pana (Spain) - A diaper rental service that provides the delivery, pickup and cleaning of reusable baby diapers.
  • Paving Sustainable Communities of the Future (Macedonia) - A recycling process that turns plastic waste in house-building materials.
  • Plast’if (France) - A 3D printer that makes use of artificial intelligence to recycle plastic waste collected from company employees.
  • The Plastomobile: Mobile plastic recycling workshop (Lithuania) - A traveling plastic recycling studio that takes children through the recycling process.
  • Plas’tri (France) - An identification tool to make local recycling structures more circular.
  • pluumo (United Kingdom) - A sustainable thermal packaging material made from surplus feathers.
  • ReCarbonate (Belgium) - A vending machine that dispenses carbonated drinks into reusable bottles.
  • ReciclaGaMe (Italy) - A bio-conversion, self-sufficient system that converts plastic into a sustainable silk material.
  • ReFeel Good (Portugal) - A delivery refill system for laundry & home care products.
  • RePlast 3D (Croatia) - A small enterprise initiative to boost recycling and reduce unemployment, through the use of plastic waste in 3D printing.
  • RIS (Slovenia) - Water-soluble shampoo marbles made with natural ingredients.
  • SAFE public events products and circular business model (Slovenia) - Biodegradable and reusable plates and cutlery to be used at public events.
  • SpraySafe (Portugal) - An edible spray used on the surface of foods to preserve them, reducing the need forplastic wraps and containers.
  • VEnvirotech (Spain) - A biotechnological start-up that transforms organic waste into biodegradable polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) bioplastics using bacteria.

Find more info on the Semi-Finalists on their profile pages.

If our Semi-Finalists have inspired you, check out our Playbook for Social Innovation for advice and tips on starting and developing your own social venture.

The European Social Innovation Competition, launched in memory of Diogo Vasconcelos, is a challenge prize run by the European Commission, now in its seventh year. The competition is open to applicants from EU member states and countries associated to Horizon 2020. The competition is delivered by a consortium of partners including Nesta, Kennisland, Ashoka, ENoLL and Scholz & Friends.

This blog was originally posted on the European Social Innovation Competition’s website.


Zofia Jackiewicz

Zofia Jackiewicz

Zofia Jackiewicz

Assistant Programme Manager

Zofia's work in Nesta Challenges focused on development and delivery of various projects including the European Social Innovation Competition.

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