Judging criteria & process

The TOM FORD Plastic Innovation Prize is structured into two rounds occurring over approximately two years, followed by approximately three years of support and accelerator services for competition winners and other high-performing teams.In the first round of the competition, entrants completed a detailed Submission Template outlining their innovation and describing how it aligns with the competition criteria.

The eight selected Finalists now move into the final round of the competition, providing samples of their materials for third-party lab and field testing. Prize winners will be selected based on a review of these results plus supporting materials. Three prize winners will share in a prize pool of $1 Million in investment capital and then move into the Accelerator phase of the competition. The eight selected Finalists will also receive an equal share in a milestone prize award of $200,000 to encourage the development of their technologies and support their participation in the competition.

The judging criteria for the prize are designed to be holistic and comprehensive such that the competition rewards the solutions best positioned to succeed in the marketplace while also mitigating the crisis of thin-film plastic.

The core judging criteria for the prize are:

    • Materials must be capable of demonstrating soil and marine biological degradation under conditions that closely approximate natural environments.
    • Materials must minimize negative social & environmental impacts arising from their production.
    • Products must meet industry standard performance specifications to ensure they are capable of functioning within packaging systems and for use by consumers.
    • Solutions must be scalable to meet the massive scope of the thin-film plastic pollution challenge.
  • COST
    • Solutions must have a clear pathway to becoming reasonably cost competitive with traditional thin-film plastics.

A detailed overview of the judging criteria, as well as the process for reviewing submissions, are provided in the Competition Guidelines.


  • MAY 18, 2021
    • Prize Opens for Submissions
  • OCTOBER 24, 2021
    • Submission Window Closes
  • MARCH 29 2022
    • Finalists Announced
  • Q2 2022 – Q4 2022
    • Laboratory and Field Testing
  • Q1 2023
    • Winners Announced
  • Q2 2023 – Q4 2025
    • Accelerator Phase and Support for Finalists

Why an innovation prize?

Innovation prizes have incentivized large-scale problem-solving for over 300 years. In fact, the story of plastic starts with an innovation prize. And elephants. In 1869, John Wesley Hyatt won the Phelan & Collender prize for inventing the world’s first plastic—celluloid—to replace ivory in billiard balls. Ivory was becoming scarce. And so were elephants. Hyatt’s innovation, inspired by the prize, marked the birth of the plastic world as we know it today.  The TOM FORD Plastic Innovation Prize was established with the spirit of Hyatt’s work in mind. One hundred and fifty-two years later, the solution to the world’s plastic crisis can be found in the tale of its creation.

What does biologically degradable mean? And how is this different from “biodegradable”?

Biologically degradable is defined as materials that will break down and degrade when placed in a variety of contexts at the end of their useful life, such as a landfill, in soil, in the ocean, and in compost. Materials would further need to not produce any toxic byproducts as they degrade, such as microplastics or any other toxic materials.

This term is differentiated from the more common and misused term “biodegradable.” Companies often claim their materials are biodegradable, but do so for materials that produce microplastics as they degrade, and/or for materials that only degrade under certain conditions. There is no universal definition or certification for the term biodegradable.

Why is the prize focused on alternative materials, rather than reuse, new business models, or policy change?

While new recycling technologies, reusable solutions, new business models, and policy changes are critical pieces to solving the world’s plastic crisis, we believe the most impactful approach for solving the issues with thin-film plastic is through material innovation.

This is largely because thin-film plastic is a high-volume, low-value product, making many circular economy approaches challenging and the unit economics  inhospitable for new recycling approaches.

Won’t encouraging the use of biologically degradable materials lead to more thin-film plastic leaking into the ocean?

It is unclear how the use of these materials would change behavior. People already have challenges adhering to existing waste management systems and it is not clear that the presence of these materials would make them even more likely to do so.

Also, large portions of the marine plastic problem arise from jurisdictions with ineffective or insufficient waste management systems, so alternative materials are a mitigation strategy for these issues.

Lonely Whale is working closely with marine debris experts to understand the potential for challenges arising from the implementation of new materials, and as a campaign organization will reinforce how waste management is key regardless of end of life performance of the prize materials.

Why will competitors be required to submit actual materials for testing in order to be able to win the grand prize?

Tom Ford and Lonely Whale want to ensure that whatever materials are put forth through the competition will actually help solve the issue of thin-film plastic pollution. We know that these materials will end up in our environment, regardless of our best efforts to prevent this from happening. By testing the biological degradation of the materials developed by finalist teams, using rigorous and scientifically valid testing protocols, we can help ensure that the adoption of these materials can actually help reduce the impact of mismanaged waste on our natural environment, rather than creating a whole new set of challenges for our ocean and terrestrial environments.

How will you manage potential conflicts of interest?

All individuals and organizations formally engaged as part of the competition process will be required to disclose any potential conflicts of interests, and recuse themselves from decision-making processes if deemed necessary based on these potential conflicts.

How will you protect the intellectual property of potential competitors?

All competing teams will solely own all of their intellectual property rights to their technology. Entering the competition does not transfer any right or ownership of any intellectual property to Tom Ford or Lonely Whale.

What level of confidentiality will be provided to the competition submissions?

All competition materials will remain confidential throughout the course of the competition and beyond.

Will 52HZ sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) prior to an organization entering the competition?

The Competition Submission Agreement, which is required of all competition entrants, includes robust confidentiality provisions, stipulating that 52HZ “will not disclose, use, or publish any Confidential Information” provided by competition entrants (see section 13 of the agreement for the full text). As such, the provisions of a non-disclosure agreement are already included in the Competition Submission Agreement, so a separate NDA is not required.

Can Teams add Team Members after they have officially entered the competition?

Yes. Any changes in a team’s composition or legal status must be communicated within 10 business days.

Will finalists have access to the results of their lab and field testing analyses?

This is something the prize team will discuss in detail with our legal experts and other partners. We will provide guidance prior to the announcement of competition winners.

What specific forms or types of plastics are included in the definition of “thin-film plastics”?

Most thin-film plastic materials are made from the same base material, low density polyethylene (LDPE).

However, the focus of the competition is not on a specific type of thin-film plastic alternative, rather the judging criteria are designed to focus on the qualities of these materials (end of life, production impacts, performance, scalability, and cost).

As noted elsewhere, other materials that are not direct substitutes for thin-film plastic are eligible so long as it is clear that these materials can be utilized to meet the primary use-cases targeted by the prize, namely fashion polybags and single-use and resealable plastic sandwich and storage bags.

Does the competition focus only on direct thin-film plastic substitutes or is it open for other forms of plastics like biodegradable plastic foams as well which could be used in packaging?

Yes, the competition is open to other materials that could be utilized in packaging, so long as it is clear that these materials can be utilized to meet the primary use-cases targeted by the prize, namely fashion polybags and single-use and resealable plastic sandwich and storage bags.

Will all participants in the competition be publicly announced or will the finalists be announced publicly?

We would like to be able to highlight participants that complete their applications (so get them in early!), however this is optional and at the discretion of both Lonely Whale and the competition entrant.

We will conduct a feature campaign showcasing all of the competition finalists to highlight their journey through the competition and their technologies.

This feature work will continue after the winners are announced as we work to support the prize finalists in reaching the necessary market adoption and scale.

We do envision that most submissions to the prize will constitute direct “drop-in” replacements for thin-film plastics, however this is not a requirement for entering the competition.

What are the terms of the SAFE note (i.e. capped vs. uncapped, discount, etc.)?

The SAFE note for prize winners includes no valuation cap, with a discount of 30% for the company’s subsequent equity financing round or liquidity event. Full text of the SAFE agreement is available via a link available in the Competition Submission Agreement (accessed and uploaded via the Competition Submission Portal). If a prize winner is a publicly-traded company, the equity investment will be in the form of a purchase of the prize winner’s publicly traded securities.

Can participants submit more than one material as entries for the prize?

Yes, however there is a limit of three submissions per team. In the case of multiple submissions, each submission must involve substantially different technologies or polymers. Teams seeking to submit more than one submission must contact the Prize team by email at before doing so.

Note also that no individual person or entity may be a member of more than one team submitting to the competition.

Are teams allowed to withdraw from the competition?

Competing teams may drop out of the competition at any time. Teams must provide written notice of withdrawal to the Prize team ten business days before its withdrawal. Please see Section 3, ‘Withdrawal,’ in the Competition Submission Agreement for full details.

Are joint submissions involving more than two organizations allowed?

Per the Competition Submission Agreement (Section 3, pg. 2), participants must enter organized under a single legal entity (e.g., corporation, LLC, sole proprietorship, nonprofit, etc.).

If teams are considering collaborating with another organization due to existing partnerships and/or licensure of intellectual property, we recommend designating a single entity as the competition applicant and only including Team Members who are direct employees or contractors of that entity in the competition submission. The competition applicant may then involve other partners informally as part of the competition process. Investors, donors, suppliers, and third-party holders of any intellectual property licensed to the team for use in its submission are not eligible to be included as Team Members in a competition submission.

Please see associated FAQ answers regarding team ownership of intellectual property (above and below).

What if a prize entrant is licensing technology from another company?

All submissions must be in accordance with all appropriate licenses in any third-party technology or intellectual property and may not violate or infringe on the rights of any third party. Please see the Competition Submission Agreement (Section 4, pg. 4) for the full Representations and Warranties associated with a competition submission.

As a reminder, all competing teams will solely own all of their intellectual property rights to their technology. Entering the competition does not transfer any right or ownership of any intellectual property to Tom Ford or Lonely Whale.