Daily Management Review

Leading manufacturers move forward with the New Plastics Economy


By 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish, says joint study of the World Economic Forum, Ellen MacArthur Foundation and consulting firm McKinsey. The new joint report has been submitted in Davos last week, and represents a plan of action to address the problem of plastics pollution. Properly implemented, it will increase share of recyclable and reusable plastic packaging to 70%.

Nils Ally
Nils Ally
The fresh report "Catalyzing action" is a three-year initiative of Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s "the New Plastics Economy". It brings together more than 40 organizations from manufacturers of chemicals, consumer goods, and retail to city authorities and waste receiving and processing plants. Among the participants are listed Amcor, Coca-Cola Company, Danone, Mars, Novamont, Unilever, Veolia and Oak Foundation. The initiative is designed to make the closed-loop economy a base for plastics manufacturers.

Plastic is one of the most versatile synthetic material. It can be found almost everywhere, from buildings to computers or toothpaste. However, only 14% of plastics are recycled nowadays. Packaging materials make up 26% of the world volume of plastic. Being a single-use item, it becomes a source of environmental degradation and increases greenhouse gas emissions. UNESCO estimated that total damage to the environment from plastic packaging could reach $ 40 billion. At that, manufacturing companies annually drop $ 80-120 billion due to disposable products.

The report submitted at recent Davos World Economic Forum (WEF) provides specific direction and innovation activities, which are designed to accelerate transition to zero waste. Up to 50% of packaging can be recycled and bring profit, it says. To do this, companies need to modernize all stages of plastic packaging’s life in line with close-loop economy standards. Particularly, it means design of new goods should at the first stages included an opportunity to recycle the product, as well as re-use of the materials.

The paper’s authors say that constructive changes in plastic packaging design should be the first step. Next, manufacturers need to establish an effective system of separate waste collection, and introduce modern technologies of waste sorting, including establishment of a labeling system that will allow to identify recyclable material. It is also necessary to develop innovative mechanisms for sorting plastic wrap - the most problematic packaging material nowadays. 

20% types of plastic packaging, such as water bottles, trash and grocery bags, should be replaced by reusable materials. The WEF call on companies, especially suppliers of business services, to develop new models of products delivery without using disposable packaging. It is necessary to get rid of rigid plastic packaging and plastic wrap first.

Experts draw attention to growing popularity of "long-running production." According to the WEF, the market of reusable bottles will grow by 4% in the coming years. Brought together, these initiatives will help to save about 6 million tons of plastic and $ 9 billion in cash.

Changes in legislation would contribute to loyalty of residents and companies. For example, authorities in 35 countries have already banned plastic bags, or increased taxes on such products. Recycling and clean recycling of plastics should be publicly promoted and maintained at the state level.

It is impossible to recycle remaining 30% of the world's plastic. Sippers, disposable bottles of shower gels, caps and other small plastic parts, tend to get lost during waste collection, and potential for re-use of such products is negligible "in the most optimistic scenario." As a solution, experts suggest to upgrade design, delivery system and collection of small plastic packages.

The group of "unprocessed" also includes coffee cups, take-out boxes and other containers soiled with organic residues. The report recommends to increase volume of decomposing food packaging and to support further development of alternative innovative materials.

Special attention should be given to rare types of plastic that cannot be processed due to small total volume. PVC, polystyrene and expanded polystyrene should be replaced by already known alternatives, experts believe. It is important to ensure inflow of new materials on the market. In addition, the manufacturer recommends to abandon mixed plastics and to focus efforts on development of recyclable or degradable materials. Simultaneously, researchers should continue to look for new technologies for processing these types of plastic, and explore opportunities and risks of chemical processing.

The close-loop economy is directly linked to the United Nations’ objectives in the field of sustainable development, adopted on September 25, 2015. Transition to a closed production cycle will reduce burden on the environment and preserve the ecosystems. Overall, it will play a crucial role in achieving goals of the Paris agreement on combating climate change.

source: sustainablebrands.com