• Institute for Sustainable Investing

Entrepreneurs and the Race for Plastic Waste Innovation

Moving the needle on plastic waste reduction requires innovation, and it’s spurring Morgan Stanley’s Multicultural Innovation Lab to search for and accelerate founders whose startups help address the problem.

Imagine a world where instances of plastic in our daily lives can be substituted with sustainable alternatives. Think of water-filled pouches made of edible seaweed, instead of traditional single-use plastic bottles. Or refillable containers for products like ice cream or mouthwash that can be delivered to your home and later recovered, cleaned and reused. These innovations are already underway and signify how startup entrepreneurs are changing consumer options and contributing to a more circular economy.

While plastic has important everyday applications, the negative impacts of plastic waste are now coming into stark relief, creating a system-wide challenge. Each year, millions of tons of plastic waste enter the environment and hundreds of millions of tons crowd landfills or are incinerated.

Innovation at every stage of the plastics value chain is required, and increasingly, emerging entrepreneurs are playing a unique and important role to tackle the problem.

Plastic waste reduction is an issue that Morgan Stanley is addressing across the economy. In April, the firm launched the Morgan Stanley Plastic Waste Resolution to help facilitate the prevention, reduction and removal of 50 million metric tons of plastic waste in rivers, oceans, landscapes and landfills by 2030.

While there are diverse approaches to potential solutions, most share one perspective: Simply scaling existing solutions will not be enough. Given plastic’s important role in the economy, no single company, industry, country or alliance can address plastic waste solutions alone. Establishing a more sustainable plastics industry will require the power of capital markets to innovate, incubate and scale solutions across the entire value chain. Innovation at every stage of the plastics value chain is required, and increasingly, emerging entrepreneurs are playing a unique and important role to tackle the problem.

To help support this effort,  the Morgan Stanley Multicultural Innovation Lab—the firm’s accelerator for technology-enabled startups led by women and multicultural teams—is inviting entrepreneurs that aid in the prevention, reduction and removal of plastic waste to apply for admission to its 2020 cohort. The Lab pairs founders with experts and mentors, provides training in sales, branding, marketing and communication and makes introductions to potential investors, including venture capitalists. The Lab helps women and multicultural entrepreneurs evolve from founders to public-facing CEOs of companies ready to expand and attract new investments.

Plastic Waste Reduction Innovations

There are at least four areas across the plastics value chain ripe for more tech-enabled innovations that applicants to the 2020 Multicultural Innovation Lab can help address:

  1. Material science: These solutions can help improve the recyclability, compostability and/or biodegradability of plastic or plastic alternatives.

  2. Product and packaging design: The race is on for packaged goods companies and their partners to develop the first fully biodegradable, flexible plastic packaging material.

  3. New delivery and business models: Other tech-savvy innovators are looking to “un-bottle” drinks through new business models that allow users to refill a reusable container at home or on the go.

  4. Waste management: Entrepreneurs are working to improve collection, sorting and processing of plastic, and to increase the value of recycled plastic using everything from apps to tech-enabled reverse vending machines that facilitate collection and multi-technology optical sorting, reducing contamination in the material streams.

Plastic Waste Startups: Calling Women and Multicultural Entrepreneurs

While a number of creative solutions designed to help address these issues exist, more innovation is required. Of the 6.3 billion metric tons of plastic waste created since 1950, only 9% has been recycled, while the rest has been incinerated, gone to landfills or into the environment.1  The most readily recyclable plastic items are still only recycled at a 25 to 30% rate in the United States.2 Additionally, there are limited alternatives to replace non-recyclable food and personal care packaging, which are often found in oceans due to their low monetary value, lack of recyclability and heavy use in emerging markets without mature waste management infrastructure.

These challenges present opportunities for entrepreneurs—and from the Lab’s perspective, especially for women and multicultural founders—seeking to capture market share and make a difference. If you share this commitment and have a startup that offers innovative solutions you’re aiming to grow and scale, apply to become part of the 2020 Multicultural Innovation Lab.

Learn more about the Morgan Stanley Plastic Waste Resolution and Multicultural Innovation Lab and contact the Lab with any questions.