Circular Blueprint Could Help Create “New Plastics Economy”

Feature-NPECApplying circular economy principles to global plastic packaging flows could transform the plastics economy and drastically reduce negative externalities such as leakage into oceans, according to the latest report by the World Economic Forum and Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics provides for the first time a vision of a global economy in which plastics never become waste, and outlines concrete steps towards achieving the systemic shift needed.

The report, financially supported by the MAVA Foundation, was produced as part of Project MainStream, a global, multi-industry initiative that aims to accelerate business-driven innovations to help scale the circular economy.

Dame Ellen MacArthur, Ellen MacArthur Foundation – “To move from insight to large scale action, it is clear that no one actor can work on this alone; the public, private sector and civil society all need to mobilise in order to capture the opportunity of the new circular plastics economy”

It acknowledges that while plastics and plastic packaging are an integral part of the global economy and deliver many benefits, their value chains currently entail significant drawbacks. Assessing global plastic packaging flows comprehensively for the first time, the report finds that most plastic packaging is used only once; 95% of the value of plastic packaging material, worth $80-120bn annually, is lost to the economy.

Additionally, plastic packaging generates negative externalities, valued conservatively by UNEP at $40bn.

Given projected growth in consumption, in a business-as-usual scenario, by 2050 oceans are expected to contain more plastics than fish (by weight), and the entire plastics industry will consume 20% of total oil production, and 15% of the annual carbon budget.

Dame Ellen MacArthur, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, said: “This report demonstrates the importance of triggering a revolution in the plastics industrial ecosystem and is a first step to showing how to transform the way plastics move through our economy.

“To move from insight to large scale action, it is clear that no one actor can work on this alone; the public, private sector and civil society all need to mobilise in order to capture the opportunity of the new circular plastics economy.”

New Plastics Economy

In this context, an opportunity beckons for the plastics value chain to deliver better system-wide economic and environmental outcomes, while continuing to harness the benefits of plastic packaging.

The New Plastics Economy, outlined in this report, envisages a new approach based on creating effective after-use pathways for plastics; drastically reducing leakage of plastics into natural systems, in particular oceans; and decoupling plastics from fossil feedstocks.

Achieving such systemic change will require major collaboration efforts between all stakeholders across the global plastics value chain – consumer goods companies, plastic packaging producers and plastics manufacturers, businesses involved in collection, sorting and reprocessing, cities, policymakers and NGOs.

Dominic Waughray, World Economic Forum – “Plastics are the workhorse material of the modern economy – with unbeaten properties. However they are also the ultimate single-use material”

The report proposes the creation of an independent coordinating vehicle to set direction, establish common standards and systems, overcome fragmentation, and foster innovation opportunities at scale. In line with the report’s recommendations, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation will establish an initiative to act as a cross-value-chain global dialogue mechanism and drive the shift towards a New Plastics Economy.

The report’s findings are timely: knowledge and understanding of the circular economy among business leaders and policymakers is growing, as demonstrated by the European Commission’s recent circular economy package and associated funding announcements; new technologies are unlocking opportunities in material design, reprocessing and renewable sourcing; developing countries are investing in after-use infrastructure; and governments are increasingly considering – and implementing – policies around plastic packaging.

Circular Economy Principles

Linear models of production and consumption are increasingly challenged by the context within which they operate – and this is particularly true for high volume, low value materials such as plastic packaging.

By demonstrating how circular economy principles can be applied to global plastic flows, this report aims to provide a model for achieving the systemic shift our economy needs to make in order to work in the long term.

Dominic Waughray, World Economic Forum, said: “Plastics are the workhorse material of the modern economy – with unbeaten properties. However they are also the ultimate single-use material. 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. Our research confirms that applying those circular principles could spark a major wave of innovation with benefits for the entire supply chain.”

For the full report CLICK HERE


CIWM Resource Conference Cymru 

The CIWM Resource Conference Cymru will be exploring the new EU circular economy package. With a focus on clarifying the package and targets, exploring what these mean in practical terms and revealing real-life solutions and best practice, hear first-hand from EU speakers and join in the discussions with professionals from across the industry. For more information and to book your place click here.

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