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A new approach to plastics

By applying circular economy principles to global plastic packaging, we could transform the plastics economy and drastically reduce pollution, according to the latest report by the World Economic Forum and Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Commenting on the report, Martin Stuchtey from McKinsey Center for Business and Environment explains:

“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 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.”

The report’s authors set out what could be achieved, but admit that change will require a societal shift in attitudes:

“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 mobilize in order to capture the opportunity of the new circular plastics economy.”

By 2050 there will be more plastic (by weight) than fish in the world’s oceans if we carry on with business as usual.  By that time, plastics will use more than a fifth of the world’s oil production (assuming oil output continues to grow) and fifteen percent of the carbon budget. Despite these obvious problems, the majority of the plastic we consume is for a single use – after which it is simply discarded.  This means that we waste as much as $120bn each year throwing away plastic that could be recycled.

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