Transforming plastic waste could reduce ocean pollution

11th February 2016

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Andrew Sims

Applying circular economy principles to global plastic packaging flows could transform the plastics economy and drastically reduce negative impacts such as leakage into oceans, says a new report.

The New plastics economy: Rethinking the future of plastics from the World Economic Forum and Ellen MacArthur Foundation finds that most plastic packaging is used only once, with about 95% of the value of the material, worth up to $120bn a year, lost to the economy.

Continuing the same model, coupled with expected growth, would lead to more plastic in the ocean by weight than fish by 2050. Plastic packaging will also consume 20% of total oil production, and 15% of the annual carbon budget by the middle of the century. The report states that plastic packaging already generates negative costs amounting to $40bn.

It outlines a new approach based on creating effective after-use pathways for plastics, which it says would drastically reduce leakage of plastics into natural systems, particular oceans, and decouple plastics from fossil feedstocks.

Martin Stuchtey, at McKinsey & Company, which collaborated on the report, said: ‘Growing volumes of end-of-use plastics are generating costs and destroying value to the industry. After-use plastics could, with circular economy thinking, be turned into valuable feedstock.’

Waste firm Recycling Technologies, which participated in research for the report, said the approach offered the plastics value chain an opportunity to deliver better system-wide economic and environmental outcomes.

It warned, however, that achieving such systemic change would require major collaboration between all stakeholders, including consumer goods companies, plastic packaging producers and plastics manufacturers, businesses involved in collection, sorting and reprocessing, cities and policymakers.

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