Decreasing Waste with More Sustainable Packaging for a Leading Nutrition Intervention
With some 2 billion people worldwide suffering from “hidden hunger” (the deficiency of essential micronutrients, such as Vitamin A, B-vitamins, zinc, and iron, even where sufficient caloric intake might exist), micronutrient powders (MNPs) are a critical tool in tackling global malnutrition among children under the age of 5, in low-resource settings and refugee camps. Approximately 200 million MNP packets are distributed each year by governments and humanitarian organizations, including UNICEF and the World Food Programme. However, the current foil sachets in which the powders are packaged cannot be recycled, re-purposed, burned, or composted, creating large amounts of collateral waste in these settings. More effective and sustainable forms of packaging could have the potential of reducing the cost of these interventions, and scaling-up their usage.
Scientists Without Borders, along with The Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science at the New York Academy of Sciences and DSM's humanitarian nutrition think tank, Sight and Life, partnered to host a $25,000 open innovation challenge seeking More Sustainable and Effective Approaches for Delivering Micronutrient Powders (MNPs) that also satisfies stringent manufacturing and cost-per-unit requirements and meets the need to protect the powders’ integrity under harsh conditions.
The three winners, who will share in the $25,000 prize, are:
The winners were chosen by an independent expert selection panel convened by Scientists Without Borders. The members of the expert panel were Saskia De Pee of the Word Food Programme; Joel Gittelsohn, Professor in the Department of International Health at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health; Nina Goodrich of GreenBlue and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition; Lynnette Neufeld of the Micronutrient Initiative; and Arnold Timmer of UNICEF (see their extended biographies here). The panelists chose the winning solutions from 36 submissions that were generated from 15 countries over 90 days, with one-third of the submissions offered by solvers in the developing world.
The winning solutions were grounded in a combination of proven packaging techniques and proposed new, innovative concepts. Each winning solution also addresses the need to create MNP packaging that is both effective in protecting the product and is sustainable as the distribution of MNPs is scaled-up. Judges noted that the solution that was placed first—a hardy, biodegradable film inner sack containing the micronutrients with a paper outer sack—was well-considered, mature, and viable for implementation, and that similar materials have been used successfully in other packaging situations. The second place solution, awarded a comparable amount, recommended the inverse, a robust outer container protecting inner sachets. The third place solution, which requires more testing, suggested the innovative use of a Chitosan shell matter solution as a sustainable protective barrier.
“Scientists Without Borders is committed to utilizing innovative approaches to identify and accelerate solutions to urgent global development challenges, including by connecting the unique and diverse insights of as many passionate problem-solvers as possible with the expertise and resources of our strategic partner network to advance impact and scale,” says Shaifali Puri, Executive Director of Scientists Without Borders. “We are thrilled to partner with The Sackler Institute and Sight and Life to apply our collaborative open innovation model to combat human malnutrition while promoting more sustainable and effective interventions.”
To disseminate the challenge to as broad a solver network as possible, Scientists Without Borders also partnered with NineSigma, a leading private-sector open innovation network.
Jose Tarquino, the first place winner, notes "The challenge immediately grabbed my attention as it posed both human and technical problems: helping disadvantaged people, while, at the same time, improving an existing technology that impacts the environment. Given my experience in chemical engineering, biotechnology, food packaging and new, green, raw materials, I knew I had the ability to develop a sound proposal."
Scientists Without Borders publishes the winning solutions in keeping with the partners’ joint mission of open dissemination of great ideas, so that as many people as possible can develop and deploy them where they are needed.
You can read more about the winning ideas, our press release, our partners, our expert panel of judges, micronutrient powder interventions, and sustainable packaging on this page or via the hyperlinked text.
Expert Advisory Panel: