The Ellen Mac Arthur Foundation (Cowes, United Kingdom) and World Economic Forum (Cologny, Switzerland) released January 16 “The New Plastics Economy: Catalysing Action,” which aims to address global plastics issues through innovation in packaging design, recycling, and delivery models.
A summary of the document reads as follows:
“In just over half a century, plastics have become pervasive throughout the economy, due to their versatility and cost-effectiveness. Yet alongside clear benefits, today’s plastics system has significant drawbacks. This need not be the case, however.
As much as 20% of plastic packaging could be profitably re-used and 50% of plastic packaging could be profitably recycled if improvements are made to design and after-use systems. The remaining 30% of plastic packaging (by weight), equivalent to 10 billion garbage bags per year, is currently by design destined for landfill or incineration, and requires fundamental redesign and innovation; otherwise it will never be recycled.
The New Plastics Economy: Catalysing action provides a tangible plan for the global plastics industry to take action across all types of plastic packaging, to design better packaging, increase recycling rates, and introduce new models for making better use of packaging.”
Advisory board members the New Plastics Economy Initiative include Amcor, The Coca-Cola Company, Danone, Mars, Novamont, Unilever and Veolia.
The 44-page document in PDF format can be found in the reports section at the World Economic Forum website.
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In conjunction with the publishing of the document, Steve Russell, vice president of the Plastics Division of the American Chemistry Council (Washington, DC) issued the following statement:
“America’s Plastics Makers welcome collaborative efforts such as the Catalysing Action report aimed at promoting innovation and advancing the sustainability of plastics.
“Catalysing Action recognizes that plastics combine ‘unrivalled functional properties with low cost.’ And every day plastics contribute to sustainability by reducing material use, energy use, waste, and greenhouse gas emissions in everything from packaging to transportation to homes and buildings. A recent study by Trucost found that switching from plastics to alternatives would quadruple environmental costs, causing them to grow from $139 billion to $533 billion annually.
“The Catalysing Action report focuses on recycling—an undeniably important element of material sustainability. However, critical issues of resource efficiency and greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions must also be taken into account when setting policy to advance sustainability. And life cycle studies consistently find that plastic packaging delivers more food and other products with significantly less environmental impacts than alternatives.
“Looking ahead, discussions building on this report would benefit from focusing less on specific resins and more on the functionality of the package in its specific use. In the United States, partnerships that have explored the functionality issue include the Wrap Recycling Action Program, which is working to increase collection and recycling of flexible polyethylene wraps and bags at 18,000 retail locations throughout the country; the Materials Recovery for the Future initiative, which is developing technical solutions to improve recovery opportunities for film packaging; The Recycling Partnership, which brings best practices and infrastructure to underperforming communities; and programs that promote opportunities to convert non-recycled plastics into valuable fuels and energy. Additionally, building in greater input from lifecycle assessment experts and voices from rapidly developing economies would provide greater context.
"We look forward to continuing to partner with nonprofit organizations, industry, policy makers, academics and others to advance the recycling, reuse, recovery and remanufacturing of post-use plastics.”