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Enter New Competition to Solve the Plastics Crisis and (Bonus) Win $500K

Oceans
Two turtles being rescued from a line that had tied them together. ANATOLI MYSHLYAEV / Getty Images

2018 was a major year for raising awareness about the buildup of plastics in the world's oceans. But it also ended with one of the most high-profile attempts to solve the problem—Boyan Slat's Ocean Cleanup system—returning to port for repairs before managing to clean up any plastic.

Now, National Geographic and Sky Ocean Ventures are teaming up to make 2019 an important year for resolving the crisis. On Monday, the two organizations launched the Ocean Plastic Innovation Challenge, a competition that will award up to $500,000 in prize money and potentially at least $1 million in investments to teams that can develop solutions to the plastic crisis.


"We hope we can inspire people of diverse backgrounds to utilize their own resources, to try to really solve the problems they see and reach their own goals," Sky Ocean Ventures head Fred Michel told National Geographic. "And maybe—we hope—they'll come up with something amazing, something transformational."

Participants will be invited to compete in three categories:

  1. Design Track: The Design Track asks competitors to improve food and beverage packaging so that it does not rely so heavily on single-use plastic. A panel of judges will select 10 finalists, who will win $5,000 each. They will then compete for a first price of $100,000 and two second prices of $45,000.
  2. Circular Economy Track: The Circular Economy Track invites participants to innovate business practices that value reuse of materials over reliance on single-use items. The prizes and process will be structured the same as for the Design Track.
  3. Data Visualization Track: The Data Visualization Track asks teams or individuals to develop engaging ways to visually raise awareness and spark action on the plastic pollution crisis. Submissions must work from a relevant and accurate data set. Judges will select four finalists, and the winner will earn $10,000 and the potential to have their visualization published digitally by National Geographic.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology prices and incentives expert Fiona Murray spoke of the importance of prizes in sparking innovation.

"It's like a really big flashing beacon, or a balloon, saying—hey! Look over here! Here's what we care about. Now go out and solve it," Murray told National Geographic.

The plastic pollution crisis is clearly in need of solving. More than nine million tons of plastic enter the world's oceans each year, and that number could reach 17 million by 2025 if nothing is done, the challenge website said.

If you want to participate, the timeline is as follows:

  • Feb. 11, 2019: Registration Opens
  • June 11, 2019: Submissions Due
  • Week of July 8, 2019: Finalists Picked
  • Week of Nov. 11, 2019: Finalists' Submissions Due
  • Week of Dec. 9, 2019: Finalists Present Ideas to a Panel of Experts and Winners Chosen

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