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Entrepreneur Support

Future of Flexibles 2021

Today, Asia is the fastest growing market for flexible packaging, with over 42% of the global market share. Its hard-to-recycle materials results in very low recycling rates, making plastic bags and food wrappers the second and third most common marine debris.

In this challenge, participants explored potential entry points for innovative solutions, from upstream redesign to downstream end-of-life uses.

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:

  • 1. Refill Models
  • 2. Advanced Recycling Technologies
  • 3. Alternative Materials
  • 4. Repurposing & Upcycling

A Two-Tiered Approach For Hard-To-Recycle Flexibles

  • Rethink
  • Recycle

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 from 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 leaking into the surrounding environment. In response, they have begun designing plastic action plans accordingly, creating a great opportunity for startups to introduce innovations 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 utilize sharing models to reduce flexible packaging waste?
  • How might we modernize and rethink supply chain logistics to eliminate the use of 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, while more than 90% of 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 the 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 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 optimize 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 utilize recycled flexible packaging as an input material for a durable end-product/material?

The Cohort

15 innovative companies have spent three months strengthening and scaling their solutions for flexible plastic waste, and shared their experiences with us.

Download cohort kit

Advisory Council Members

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

Stefano Bartolucci


Leela Dilkes-Hoffman

Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Anjali Acharya

The World Bank

Sandip Das


Alexander Cramwinckel


Chever Voltmer

Ocean Conservancy

Archawat Chareonsilp


Outreach Partners


Learn About Our Other Programs

  • Inclusive Markets

    Leakage and Livelihoods

    This program supports organizations in South and Southeast Asia to explore innovative solutions to engage informal waste communities, and build inclusive waste systems.

     Learn more
  • Entrepreneur Support

    Plastics Data Challenge 2020

    Our first pilot-readiness program brought together a collaborative, global community to increase awareness of data gaps in plastic waste management and recycling, and develop innovative solutions.

     Learn more
  • Network Collaboration

    Circular Innovation Jam 2020

    We established a collaborative, problem-solving platform where citizens and organizations could convene to develop innovations for circular economies and effective waste management systems.

     Learn more