Why is a circular economy for plastics important?
Plastics are everywhere. Their flexibility, durability, and strength have made them indispensable components of billions of modern products, and our global consumption of plastics has increased twentyfold in the last 50 years. At current rates, plastic packaging volumes are expected to more than quadruple by 2050 to 318 million tons per year.
But their negative environmental and social consequences have become a global concern: from plastic waste in our oceans to greenhouse gas emissions and toxic additives. Production relies on ever increasing use of fossil resources, contributing to climate change, and most plastic waste either ends up in landfill or leaks into the environment. The magnitude and urgency of this challenge has been aggravated by COVID-19, which increased single-use plastic products by up to 300%.
A circular economy for plastics is important to ensure we significantly reduce our use of plastics, as well as ensuring those plastics we do use are managed responsibly throughout their lifecycle.
Creating a circular economy will ensure we can continue to benefit from the unique qualities of plastics without creating plastic waste that causes harm to humans, wildlife, or the planet. If we are to hit our Sustainable Development Goals and climate targets over the coming decade, it’s vital we make the transition to a circular economy for plastics as soon as possible.
What could circularity for plastics look like?
In a circular economy for plastics
Problematic or unnecessary plastics are eliminatedNinety percent of floating marine debris is plastic. By eliminating problematic or unnecessary plastics, we can unleash huge potential benefits for human health and biodiversity.
Material inputs for plastics are safe, recycled, or renewableBy shifting from virgin materials to recycled or renewable materials to make plastics, it will help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and our dependence on finite fossil resources.
Plastics are reused moreReuse models, such as refillable bottles or dispensing jars for dried goods, reduce the need for single-use plastics. Reusing plastics is positive for the environment, biodiversity, and human health.
Plastics are recycled or composted at end-of-useToday, just 14% of plastic packaging is collected for recycling. In a circular economy, plastics that cannot be used or reused any longer should be collected, then recycled or composted.
How to transition to a circular economy for plastics
Companies, governments and civil society organizations all have a role to play in creating a circular economy for the plastics industry. These 10 calls-to-action can help us accelerate the transition, and make it as impactful as possible.