Application for The Incubation Network’s 2021 Global Innovation Challenge: Future of Flexibles are open from 2 February – 7 April 2021.

Scale your leading-edge solutions to reduce plastic waste in Asia and change the future of flexible plastics for the better.

The 2021 Global Innovation Challenge: Future of Flexibles experience has come to a close. The cohort of 15 innovative companies spent three months strengthening and scaling their solutions for flexible plastic waste, and shared it at Beyond A Pitchfest with over 200 corporate partners, circular economy experts, investors, and donors.

Nothing like a traditional virtual pitch event, the attendees were engaged over three days and across four solution areas.

Attendees connected the dots on how current innovation can disrupt existing trends in flexible plastic waste pollution across South and Southeast Asia.

More importantly, they were also able to explore investment and strategic partnership opportunities with our cohort on their promising solutions relevant to the communities and systems within the region.

Missed out? Here’s a recap:


Supported by: Alliance to End Plastic Waste, Global Affairs Canada


Today, Asia is the fastest growing market for flexible packaging, with over 42% of the global market share. Flexible plastic packaging is most commonly made from low-density polyethylene (LDPE), polypropylene (PP), or mixed materials and is notoriously difficult to recycle, resulting in very low recycling rates across the region. As a result, plastic bags and food wrappers are the second and third most common marine debris, and are the culprit for many environmental and health concerns across Asia. 

But it doesn’t have to be this way. The complexity of the challenge means there are many potential entry points for solutions, from upstream redesign to downstream end-of-life uses.

The cohort is made up of innovations that can…


flexible packaging materials, products within the packaging, and business models.

Driven by increasing demand for packaging, markets for flexible plastics are expected to grow across Asia. By 2025, multilayer plastics are projected to make up more than 70% of the market for food packaging in the region. Their rise in popularity is understandable. By design, flexibles offer thinner and lighter packaging which allows for both a reduction in greenhouse gases and cost savings in transport and shipping. Furthermore, the mix of plastic types and layers of materials in flexibles provide optimal barriers to light and air, which is ever important in the region due to the high heat and humidity levels.

Yet, many countries in Southeast Asia have voiced their concerns about the emerging consequences of a growing dependence on flexibles, including increased flooding due to clogged drains and chemicals leaching into the surrounding environment. In response, they have begun designing plastic action plans accordingly, creating a great opportunity for ventures to introduce solutions that redesign flexible packaging materials and fundamentally rethink the way products are made.

As South and Southeast Asian countries move towards Extended Producer Responsibility and Asian consumers increasingly demand environmentally friendly products, innovations at the business model level will help increase profitability and stave off competition.  Companies must be ready to tap into new markets by providing socially responsible goods without sacrificing convenience and efficacy. Opportunities in business model innovation involve reimagining product delivery — such as refill and sharing models — and restructuring supply chains to eliminate the need for many hard-to-recycle packagings.

This solution area aims to answer…

  • How might we redesign existing flexible packaging so that it is easily recyclable?
  • How might we replace flexible plastics with more easily recyclable or compostable materials?
  • How might we redesign products to allow for more environmentally-friendly packaging options?
  • How might we replace or redesign products sold in small sachets with more environmentally responsible and sustainable options?
  • How might we encourage the transition to reusable packaging or utilise sharing models to reduce flexible packaging waste?
  • How might we modernise and rethink supply chain logistics to eliminate the use of flexible plastics?


flexible plastics through downstream innovations in collecting, sorting, and processing flexible plastics.

Collection of recyclable material is primarily conducted by the informal sectors in many parts of South and Southeast Asia.  For example, in Indonesia, waste pickers collect over one million tonnes of plastic waste every year and more than 90 percent of the recyclable waste is collected through the informal sector in Vietnam. While the rising popularity of flexible packaging may be attributed to its thin and lightweight nature, these are very properties that make them difficult to collect. Paired with its low value in post-consumer markets, flexibles are often left behind by waste pickers to be burned or dumped into the environment.

Even when they are collected, flexibles require additional efforts to be sorted correctly. This is because certain plastics differ at a molecular level and will contaminate recycling streams when incompatible plastics are left mixed together. Furthermore, it can be especially difficult to sort flexible plastics which closely resemble one another and are often not labeled. New innovations in this sphere can optimise the efficiency of collection and sorting processes for flexible plastics across the region.

Financially viable end-uses that generate economic value are necessary to create markets for flexible plastics and can drive both the collection and processing of waste. There are few solutions currently available for flexibles, majority of which rely on either pyrolysis and chemical recycling or repurposing within the construction industry. With an enhanced onus on companies to find end uses for these materials, there is much untapped opportunity for both new end uses of this material as well as innovations that compliment existing solutions and help prevent adverse environmental impacts and harm from current methods.

This solution area aims to answer…

  • How might we encourage more collection of flexible packaging?
  • How might we enhance the sorting process for flexible plastics?
  • How might we enhance collection practices to promote gender equality, inclusion and dignified work?
  • How might we create new higher value markets for flexibles?
  • How might we make post consumer flexible packaging more circular?
  • How might we create new recycling methods for multi-layered and mixed-material flexible packaging?
  • How might we utilise recycled flexible packaging as an input material for a durable end-product/material?


To learn more about each participant, download our cohort kit here:


Email [email protected] to connect with any of our cohort participants.


Our Advisory Council is an actively growing group of leading experts, corporations, and organisations who will be actively supporting the challenge and its innovators.

First Environment logo
Stefano Bartolucci


Leela Dilkes-Hoffman
Ellen MacArthur Foundation
Anjali Acharya
The World Bank
Sandip Das

Alexander Cramwinckel

Chever Voltmer
Ocean Conservancy
Archawat Chareonsilp


  • Relevance to Solution Areas and Region (35%) 
  • Potential to Scale (25%)
  • Impact (20%)
  • Team Background & Capabilities (20%)


Please select one person to represent your team who will be the main point of contact for the duration of the challenge. There is space on the application form for you to include the names and information of the rest of your team members.

Please take the time to read the description of each solution area and select the ONE solution area in your application which your solution best matches.

No, all challenge areas will be evaluated the same. These areas are merely to help our judges best understand and evaluate your solution and its relevance to the mission of this challenge.

Yes, you can save your work on the application before submitting. The platform will automatically save your answers as you go as well. However, once the application has been officially submitted, you will not be able to go back and change your responses.

Yes, absolutely. Please select a representative from your team to apply and register. In the “Company Registration” question of your application, please select the “other” option and let us know that you are currently in a research center.

Both the summit and mentorship program will be conducted virtually. Applicants are not required to be based in any particular time zone; however, cohort members are expected to have at least one member from the team in attendance for the kickoff summit and to be present for any other mandatory events and appointments throughout the duration of the mentorship program.

The Future of Flexibles Challenge is an opportunity for innovators worldwide with solutions to flexible packaging that are relevant for South and Southeast Asia. A cohort of companies will be invited to join one of two program tracks: an incubation track for young startups eager to get their innovation off the ground, and an acceleration track for those more mature startups and SMEs interested in expanding their footprint in the region. All cohort participants will be invited to participate in a 10-week growth program composed of an Innovation Summit and eight-weeks of virtual sessions with their own curated team of global experts and mentors. All members will receive a minimum of $5,000 USD grants to recognise their time spent in the program and will also be able to unlock additional resources and technical support from The Incubation Network and its networks of partners and capital providers to scale their business. All participants will emerge from this program with clarity of an action plan for a thriving venture in Asia along with a community of mentors, fellow innovators, and resource-providers to support them along their journey.

Please read our terms and conditions and the challenge rules here.

For specific inquiries regarding the application, mentorship or partnership opportunities, please send an email to [email protected] 


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