MacArthur, who heads a foundation which bears her name, was recognised "for being an inspirational model in the fight for the better use of natural resources and for accelerating the transition to what is known as circular economy," the jury said in a statement.
A professional yachtswoman, she made history in 2005 by breaking the world record for sailing solo around the globe, showing she could outlast and outpace men in one of the most demanding and dangerous of challenges.
After retiring from professional yachting in 2010, she created the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which advocates for a more sustainable model of production and consumption, focusing on reusing, recycling and extending the life of existing materials.
As well as conducting research focused on increasing sustainability in food and fashion production, the Foundation has also made important advances in the war on plastic waste.
"Her ability to promote alliances with governments, companies, scientific institutions and civil society has contributed to forging the first major legally-binding international agreement against plastic pollution," the jury said, referring to a UN decision in March to negotiate a global treaty on plastic pollution.
MacArthur's Foundation played a key role alongside the World Wildlife Fund in bringing about the move in what has been hailed as a watershed moment for the planet.
She has also worked in the fashion industry, collaborating in 2018 with British designer Stella McCartney to launch the "Make Fashion Circular" campaign which advocates for greater sustainability and responsibility within the industry.
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