New Report: Rethinking the Future of Plastics

With over USD $2.6 trillion of plastics sent annually to land fills and incineration plants worldwide, a new report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation proposes a shift in the current approach to plastics – one that reorients them from their single-use focus and instead, encourages a closed system approach where plastic products serve as a source of input.

The report, which was released ahead of the World Economic Forum last week, highlights the role of plastics in recycling and reuse efforts, energy consumption, and natural ecosystems. Through an application of circular economic principles, a series of focus areas for enhancing the life cycle of plastic products was also presented.

According to the report, despite the vast amount of plastic packaging that’s collected for recycling (14%), just over a third of it is actually available for reuse. Unlike the recycling rates in other industries like paper (58%), iron and steel (70-90%), a significant amount of plastic is still lost economically through waste and leakages into the environment.

With the anticipated increase of plastic products in the future, exponential use of fossil fuels by the plastic industry is expected to rise with the growing amount of plastic in our oceans. If left to continue at current rates, researchers estimate that plastics’ leakage in oceans will soon outweigh fish by 2050. This is of outstanding concern for not only the 150 million tonnes of plastics already reported to be in oceans today, but for the unknown health impacts associated with the release of certain chemical compounds found in plastics.

In light of the recent climate change agreement to reduce country emissions, together with the new international targets on sustainable development, this report demonstrates the pressing need for a redirection of our current behavioral and commercial usage of plastic.

For more information, visit the full report here.

Photo credit: Provincie Limburg/ Alf Mertens (Project Schone Maas Limburg), CC0 1.0






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