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The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the Future of Plastics & Catalysing Action

This document combines the main insights from two previously published reports by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation with the support of the World Economic Forum: The New Plastics Economy — Rethinking the Future of Plastics (2016) and The New Plastics Economy — Catalysing Action (2017).

As estimated by the authors of the report, plastics production has surged twenty-fold over the past 50 years, from 15 million tonnes in 1964 to 311 million tonnes in 2014, and is expected to double again over the next 20 years, as plastics come to serve increasingly many applications. Plastic packaging, the focus of this report, is and will remain the largest application; currently, packaging represents 26% of the total volume of plastics used. The main problem is that plastics are used inefficiently: after a short first-use cycle, 95% of plastic packaging material value, or USD 80–120 billion annually, is lost to the economy. Moreover, unrecycled plastic packaging generates significant negative externalities, valued, by some estimates, at USD 40 billion and expected to increase with strong volume growth in a business-as-usual scenario.

This report, developed in line with the Foundation’s New Plastics Economy initiative, aims to consolidate today’s incremental improvements and fragmented initiatives, create a coordinated innovative approach, increase productivity and efficiency of recycling, and raise environmental responsibility in the plastics industry. The initial areas of focus, as seen by the authors, are: document global targets in the plastics industry, coordinate large-scale pilot projects, mobilize innovations, build a scientific base, and engage stakeholders and policy-makers. As a starting point, packaging design changes alone (e.g. choice of materials, colors, formats) could have a positive impact on recycling economics amounting to USD 90–140 per tonne collected.

This publication has been posted in the Roscongress Information and Analytical System on the recommendation of the Roscongress Foundation expert community.

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