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World Economic Forum and Ellen MacArthur report: if we don’t change direction, oceans in 2050 will have more plastic than fish.
Applying circular economy principles to plastic packaging flows could transform the plastics economy and drastically reduce negative externalities such as leakage into oceans: this is the main point stressed by the latest report by the World Economic Forum and Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics, this is the name of the dossier, provides for the first time a vision of a global economy in which plastics never become waste, and outlines concrete steps for achieving a system shift. The report was produced as part of Project MainStream, a global, multi-industry initiative that aims to accelerate innovations that can help the development of the circular economy.
The report acknowledges that although plastics and plastic packaging are an integral part of the global economy and deliver many benefits, their value chains currently entail significant drawbacks. Analysts found that most plastic packaging is used only once: this means an economic loss of about 80 to 120 billion dollars annually, the value of the material used for the packaging wasted. Additionally, plastic packaging generates negative externalities, valued at 40 billion dollars by Unep.
Given projected consumption growth, 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. In this context, it is essential for the plastics value chain to deliver better system-wide economic and environmental outcomes, while continuing to profit from 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, a drastic reduction of leakage of plastics into nature, and decoupling plastics from fossil feedstocks.
Achieving such systemic change will require major collaboration efforts by all stakeholders across the whole plastics value chain: consumer goods companies, plastic packaging producers and plastics manufacturers, enterprises involved in collection and treatment, cities, policymakers and NGOs. The report proposes the creation of an independent coordinating vehicle to set direction, establish common standards and systems, overcome fragmentation, and foster innovation opportunities. In line with the report’s recommendations, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation will establish an initiative to drive the transition towards a New Plastics Economy, creating dialogue opportunities among all stakeholders.