Scaling Impact: Measuring the Impact of Teams’ Efforts Post-Competition

The ultimate goal for each competition is not just to award money, but to directly impact a targeted space to see market shifts and product adoption. A recent paper published in SCIENCE (Lau et. al 2020) used current plastic production and end-of-life data to project how different action scenarios will impact plastic pollution through the year 2040. The authors identify the Systems-Change-Scenario (SCS), or the cumulative impact of all proposed action scenarios, as creating the most impact on reducing projected plastic pollution. We here at XPRIZE like to have our competitions targeted (laser-like you might say) in order to evoke action in an achievable way. While this prize does not act on all action scenarios leading towards systems change, it does address the scenario of ‘Reduce and Substitute’, where compostable items would be used in place of their conventional plastic counterparts. In the figure below (click here for larger), you can see the projected mass of the ‘Reduce and Substitute’ Scenario (Figure 2.A), as well as a breakdown of each sub-category (Figure 2.B).

Expanding on Figure 2 above, how much impact would you expect to see teams achieve with regards to the projected 2040 market adoption of compostable substitutes [approximately 40 Million metric tons of total plastic production]? What about 2030? 2025? If we extrapolate backwards, what is an achievable target for market adoption within a year after the competition is completed?

Hello all - here is our new discussion on projecting a competition’s potential impact on markets.

Please share any thoughts, questions, links, or ideas you have around how - and how far - we should look to project for making change in food packaging! @akb @barbswartzentruber @ErnieRogers @thanku @schalkj @iduaolunwa @austinclowes @eakinyi @LHanson @Joanne @Utobou @kjbradford @marsxr @bngejane @renskelynde @kcamphuis @ricardoyudi @NoraEatREAL @neillk @jcoonrod @FranckSaintMartin @Olawale @LaurenTurk @yusuke @janetlee @brandonkion @SteveK8 @ethan @ymedan

My view is that biodegradability is a second-level solution. The first level is to have no un-purposed plastic waste. Packaging should be renewable (that means paper), reusable, or reprocessed. I believe Berlin has been making a profit on their garbage for more than 20 years, sorting and putting all of it to use.
The potential impact: Huge. There should no plastic contamination at all. That is a goal we can reach.

@ErnieRogers Thank you for your comment. We strongly agree waste is a concept we hope to eliminate. Thus we seek to promote a return to the economy through composting while accounting for the current leakage from waste systems through biodegradability and return of materials to the environment.

As a first step towards such transformation, we would need solutions to step in and replace conventional single-use flexible plastic packaging; Do you have any insight over market adoption prospects in this space?

News I found this morning–hope it’s okay to post here. /Ernie
Plastic-eating enzyme ‘cocktail’ heralds new hope for plastic waste

The other hot news today is how scientists who re-engineered the plastic-eating enzyme PETase have now created an enzyme ‘cocktail’ which can digest plastic up to six times faster.
A second enzyme, found in the same rubbish dwelling bacterium that lives on a diet of plastic bottles, has been combined with PETase to speed up the breakdown of plastic.
PETase breaks down polyethylene terephthalate (PET) back into its building blocks, creating an opportunity to recycle plastic infinitely and reduce plastic pollution and the greenhouse gases driving climate change.
PET is the most common thermoplastic, used to make single-use drinks bottles, clothing and carpets and it takes hundreds of years to break down in the environment, but PETase can shorten this time to days.
The initial discovery set up the prospect of a revolution in plastic recycling, creating a potential low-energy solution to tackle plastic waste. The team engineered the natural PETase enzyme in the laboratory to be around 20 percent faster at breaking down PET.
Now, the same trans-Atlantic team have combined PETase and its ‘partner’, a second enzyme called MHETase, to generate much bigger improvements: simply mixing PETase with MHETase doubled the speed of PET breakdown, and engineering a connection between the two enzymes to create a ‘super-enzyme’, increased this activity by a further three times.
The team was co-led by the scientists who engineered PETase, Professor John McGeehan, Director of the Centre for Enzyme Innovation (CEI) at the University of Portsmouth, and Dr Gregg Beckham, Senior Research Fellow at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in the US.
Professor McGeehan said, “Gregg and I were chatting about how PETase attacks the surface of the plastics and MHETase chops things up further, so it seemed natural to see if we could use them together, mimicking what happens in nature.
“Our first experiments showed that they did indeed work better together, so we decided to try to physically link them, like two Pac-men joined by a piece of string.
“It took a great deal of work on both sides of the Atlantic, but it was worth the effort – we were delighted to see that our new chimeric enzyme is up to three times faster than the naturally evolved separate enzymes, opening new avenues for further improvements.”
The original PETase enzyme discovery heralded the first hope that a solution to the global plastic pollution problem might be within grasp, though PETase alone is not yet fast enough to make the process commercially viable to handle the tons of discarded PET bottles littering the planet.
Combining it with a second enzyme, and finding together they work even faster, means another leap forward has been taken towards finding a solution to plastic waste.
PETase and the new combined MHETase-PETase both work by digesting PET plastic, returning it to its original building blocks. This allows for plastics to be made and reused endlessly, reducing our reliance on fossil resources such as oil and gas.
Professor McGeehan used the Diamond Light Source, in Oxfordshire, a synchrotron that uses intense beams of X-rays 10 billion times brighter than the Sun to act as a microscope powerful enough to see individual atoms. This allowed the team to solve the 3D structure of the MHETase enzyme, giving them the molecular blueprints to begin engineering a faster enzyme system.
The new research combined structural, computational, biochemical and bioinformatics approaches to reveal molecular insights into its structure and how it functions. The study was a huge team effort involving scientists at all levels of their careers.
The Centre for Enzyme Innovation takes enzymes from the natural environment and, using synthetic biology, adapts them to create new enzymes for industry.

Agreed @ErnieRogers ! The advancement of technologies in recycling plastics is pretty amazing, and will hopefully become ubiquitous in every regional waste management system within the next decade (should already be there, but I digress). One of the reasons why we are pushing for compostable food packaging is due to issues that come along with cleaning and sorting on the consumer end. Even with the most advanced waste management sorting system, the water necessary to rinse out conventional plastic based packaging is wasteful (assuming the consumer even choses to put that much thought into their waste). Add to that the fact that a leaky waste management system is polluting plastics throughout the world, we believe that a one stop ‘throw your food waste and associated packaging here’ can help mitigate the accumulation of plastic in a landfill, reduce the effects of leakage, and also contribute to waste-to-energy systems that capture methane and CO2. With that in mind, do you have any thoughts on how we should be gauging team and competition success? @Primitives how about you? @RenskeLynde what have you seen on the investment front or through Food System 6?

Update to our scaling impact goal: 5 Million Metric tons of compostable alternatives has been identified as a potential prize goal for 10 teams to achieve by 2040, or 12% of the projected compostable production rate in 2040. How achievable do you think this is? What do we need to take into consideration to complete this goal?