Scientists Without Borders, in partnership with The Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science at the New York Academy of Sciences and DSM's not-for-profit nutrition think tank, Sight and Life, has announced a public challenge and incentive prize seeking innovative ideas for more sustainable packaging for micronutrient powders (MNPs), small sachets of essential vitamins and minerals. MNPs are one of the most widely distributed and cost-effective nutrition interventions in resource-poor settings; hundreds of millions are distributed each year in developing countries and refugee camps. The Copenhagen Consensus 2012 Expert Panel recently cited interventions involving micronutrient supplementation as the most worthy of investment because of their high cost-benefit ratio in addressing global malnutrition.
MNPs target "hidden hunger," which refers to the deficiency of essential micronutrients, such as Vitamin A, B-vitamins, zinc, and iron, in a person’s diet, even where sufficient caloric intake might exist. Hidden hunger affects an estimated 2 billion people around the world and is a critical global health and development issue. Inadequate micronutrient intake results in significant impairment of mental and physical development in children (an estimated 40% to 60% of infants in the developing world do not get the micronutrients they need) and contributes to the rising prevalence of chronic disease later in life.
Currently, MNPs are packaged in a composite foil packet constructed of aluminum, PET, and polyethylene, which surrounds 1g of powered vitamins and minerals. The composition of the foil packets is intended to protect the powder from degradation due to harsh environmental conditions, including moisture, heat, humidity, and UV light. However, these types of packets are difficult to recycle, destroy, or repurpose due to their chemical composition and the conditions under which they are commonly distributed—refugee camps or environments with extremely limited waste systems. Due to the large number of MNP sachets distributed, a large volume of collateral waste is generated in the low-resource communities where MNPs are most critical, creating an additional challenge. New and innovative approaches to packaging or delivery of MNPs could dramatically reduce the ecological impact of MNPs while also potentially increasing their availability to the world’s most vulnerable populations in need of MNP interventions.
The challenge will run for three months and will be administered by NineSigma. An independent panel of leading experts will be convened by Scientists Without Borders to select the challenge winners. The reward is $25,000 for novel, feasible, and cost-effective sustainable packaging ideas or new methods of delivering micronutrient powders in developing countries. There also may be opportunities for the winning individual/company to work with the partners to further develop the selected idea.