About the Circular Food Economy Prize Design

XPRIZE Community members advised on the design of a prize to spur innovations toward a circular economy of food.

About the Prize Design

The Circular Food Economy Prize Design is an ambitious initiative that aims to drive breakthrough concepts towards new methods and materials for food packaging, plastics, reuse, and waste.

This project uses multiple methodologies to assess the current landscape in order to ensure we design a Circular Food Economy prize that can create transformative, but scalable new concepts for a new circular economy of food, where packaging and food value chain byproducts can be reused, and natural and agricultural environments can be sustained to vastly reduce the amount of waste in food systems.

The final product of this process of researching and discussions, the Prize Design, will provide the outline of what the winning team must accomplish to be awarded the prize.

Join this online community of experts to get involved, and share your wisdom with the crowd!

The Challenge

As much as 30% (1.3 billion tons) or more of all food is lost or goes to waste along the food value chain globally, and in cities, less than 2% of the nutrients in food by-products and other waste produced is recovered and put to good use.

How can our society transform these food systems for the better? What breakthrough solutions are there to produce a healthier and more sustainable supply chain, across multiple different points of opportunity?

The Goal

We are designing an XPRIZE that will seek to drive breakthrough concepts towards a new circular economy of food, where packaging and food value chain byproducts can be reused, and natural and agricultural environments can be sustained to vastly reduce the amount of waste in food systems.

The Prize Design will provide the outline of what the winning team must accomplish to be awarded the prize and define the parameters of the XPRIZE competition. It is audacious, yet achievable.

Your Role

The community is currently debating the challenges and opportunities associated with creating innovative food packaging.

We invite you to join us and other experts from around the world to share your wisdom with the crowd and advise us on the design of this XPRIZE Circular Food Economy Prize Design!

What’s in it for you

We know your time is precious, and we appreciate your participation and input.

None of the other benefits below come close to the reward of knowing that you contributed to a truly transformative breakthrough.

We will regularly announce the most prolific community members to recognize their contributions. Participation allows you to:

  • Network with diverse stakeholders;
  • Brainstorm with top experts;
  • Promote your work;
  • Earn rewards, such as online gift cards.

Monthly rewards for the best contributors and excellence in the community will be announced at the end of each month.


This Prize Design is led by @Caroline, @BryanNamba, @Eti, and @nmgraham. @NickAzer manages the online community.

Need help?

If you have questions or need help, leave a comment here or contact the community manager, Nick Azer, via mailto:nick.azer@xprize.org. We look forward to engaging with you here on this exciting project!

Are Canadians eligible for the prizes?

Hi @LHanson ! Since we are just beginning the prize design, we do not have that information. However, XPRIZE competitions are usually held at the global level, meaning anyone with a good idea can be a competitor!

Hi team! I have a question.
Where should be the problem, or the target of this prize, of plastic food packaging? Is the problem “using”, “discarding”, “not being fully recycled”, “improperly processed after discarding”, or all of above? Plastic itself is used not only in food packaging, but in all kinds of everyday items. So I think that if we want a scalable solution on this issue, we should also focus on “post-use” problems together with plastic alternatives. Of course, I fully understand that it must be great to have a solution of non-plastic alternative food packages, which would wipe out ALL plastic food packages from all countries in the globe.

@Utobou , at this early stage we are definitely considering all phases of the plastic food packaging lifecycle, therefore we welcome any and all comments/resources/references etc! Once we have a more narrow scope we will definitely inform the community via new Key Issue discussions.

Hi. I wasn’t sure if this was the appropriate place to post this link, but came across this piece and it seemed relevant to this prize: How Dole plans to eliminate food waste by 2025

@thanku thanks for the reference!

Have a look at what 's been done (and written) by Challenge - Food+City and https://www.linkedin.com/in/robyn-metcalfe-1781456/ on this topic : probalby the most inspired thought leaders I’ve met.

@kcamphuis , thanks so much for the suggestions! Robyn is definitely someone we would want to talk with.

@NickAzer , as mentioned in the introduction, in a circular food economy the role of value chain byproducts and the re-processing/refining of organic waste is important to reduce the pressure on agriculture. i see the current discussion is more focused on innovative packaging. will the topic of reuse of byproducts covered in this phase of the prize?

@FranckSaintMartin , short answer: Yes! We are currently working on designing a values foundation for a circular economy idea and what that will look like when applied to industry(s), but we haven’t gotten there yet. Stay tuned for threads regarding this subject, should be posted sometime in the next week.

@FranckSaintMartin and to build on @nmgraham answer, we are also exploring such aspects within food packaging to answer sustainability in production and end of life, as well as value-add propositions of a broader Circular Food Economy. Other considerations also include the importance of packaging in minimizing such losses. As such, any thoughts you can share about challenges (and opportunities re the above-mentioned context) regarding value chain byproducts / organic waste would be extremely helpful! Thank you in advance.

Hello - food systems as they exist in nature are inherently circular (regenerative). Any fruit from a tree not eaten decomposes, the nutrients return to the soil and a new phase of life begins. Waste is a human invention. To create a circular solution we ought to lean into the zero-waste nature-based systems that already exist. We’re running out of topsoil from decades of industrial farming without replenishing nutrients back into the soil. This is largely because we throw food in landfills, where nutrients are lost forever (and also generate methane), and because we use synthetic fertilizers. Over time, the soil is bereft of nutrients and erodes away. Healthy soil draws down carbon, stores water, has a spongy structure, and is full of nutrients. This is important for mitigating risk in agriculture (healthy soil is more resilient to drought, fire and flood) as well as carbon storage (rebuilding soil is a carbon drawdown solution). To rebuild soil we need to put actual nutrients back into it, and to do that nothing new needs to be invented - we just need to compost. Creating the infrastructure and culture for composting is in effect addressing our soil health crisis, methane emissions, storing carbon, mitigating climate disasters, building food security and resilience and…if done with a hyper local and decentralized approach, there are incredible cobenefits for healthy and resilient community as well. In conclusion I’d like to see soil health and compost as a part of this prize design.

Here’s an article re: soil The world needs topsoil to grow 95% of its food – but it's rapidly disappearing | Farming | The Guardian
And here’s a report by ReFED on reducing food waste. 43% of America’s foodwaste comes from households, 40% comes from consumer facing businesses (this would include grocery stores). https://www.refed.com/downloads/ReFED_Report_2016.pdf Food for thought :wink:

@LaurenTurk , thanks for the insight and resources! Would love to hear more from you on our newest post that will be out shortly, I’ll make sure you are tagged in it!

This is a topic close to my heart, and it is a cultural problem and a habitual ethnoecology problem. I write about it for a local paper and I focus on not only food and regenerative gardening and food sourcing but also on NOT destroying our forests here in the Rocky mountains. People move here and then they tear out the forest and put in lawns and other things that they may have “always wanted to have” at their house that they finally can afford, but they’re destroying the trees and forests as they fulfilled their own personal dreams. Even such simple things to regenerate forests and soils is using wood chip mulch and using regenerative sourced products for packaging and the food - it’s not so much a question of people throwing things away as it is having a supply chain that incorporates these issues in the supply chain. And in my grandmother’s day and when I was a kid, we didn’t have this kind of problem - people took their containers to the store and filled them at the store (if they were buying from a store) but they also had a lot of things that they filled up on at home from their home gardens. in fact, when we went to Costa Rica we couldn’t find a grocery store because everybody had a home garden including chickens and a cow or goat so they didn’t need a grocery store. every grocery store near knows that they don’t make money on groceries they make money on everything else that they’re selling and putting in front of the people to buy all the shelf-stable products that really aren’t good for you, and you can thank the way that economy works for many of these problems that you are stating here. So having people learn for example, people who live in a city, how to work with a food source even in a city in an apartment in Sunny Windows is going to be an idea worth investigating. The movie FoodInc has many interesting ideas that are very doable for every person and every neighborhood. We have only 60 or fewer years of topsoil left so we must learn to recreate it. Corporate farming is the issue because of the way it is mono cropped. Nature is a biodiverse worldwide organism and we need to make that happen. We can do that. What we don’t have is people being interested anf available to actually follow through, because they’re in the habit of …shopping. if you know how to do it, it takes a lot less time to grow garden even on your windowsill then it does to go to the store and buy things.So that is one of the big issues to start with. We live in a kind of economy that focuses on production and selling, not on the circular economy upon which our natural resources are all based.

Here’s a crazy idea to ponder: First some background; I was living in a temperate rain-forest for a few years and discovered that something was eating into some of the plastic items in my garage. This was about the time I read about a 17-year-old Canadian boy who had discovered a micro-organism that would eat high-density polyethylene (HDPE).

Something was eating into plastic handles on some of my screwdrivers and a few plastic drafting templates leftover from back when we used such things. Later I found something growing on the plastic gas tank on my lawnmower. Whatever was growing there wasn’t growing fast, but it was growing.

Later I learned about wax worms eating polyester and I began to wonder what the wax worms were excreting after eating polyester, and what was the output of whatever was eating the other plastic items. I also wondered if we could isolate them and hybridize them, or find more aggressive consumers of the plastics, or do some gene editing to modify them so they could eat more plastics faster, and output something useful, like 10-10-10 fertilizer or something.

The mind could jump to a science-fiction scenario where such organisms get out of control, go viral, and eat up all the plastic in the world… But what if we could contain them in a compost bin where we could toss our household plastics along with the peels and pits, and stems we don’t eat and have them produce an even higher quality plant food?

Could this be a way to turn petroleum-based packaging into petroleum-based fertilizer?

Imagine sprinkling a little dried plastic eating organism powder on your compost, similar to the way we add dry yeast to our bread dough, mixing it in and letting it do its work.

In China, cockroaches are used to turn food waste into fertilizer on an industrial scale. Could plastics be included in such a waste-stream if the right organisms could be found?