A new report by McKinsey, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and the World Economic Forum, The new plastics economy: Rethinking the future of plastics, finds that applying circular-economy principles to global plastic-packaging flows could reshape the material’s economy. In particular, it could drastically reduce negative externalities—valued conservatively by the United Nations Environment Programme at $40 billion —such as “leakage” into oceans as plastics escape established waste-collection systems.
Today, almost a third of all plastic packaging leaks, with about 8 million metric tons annually polluting oceans.
The new report explains that improvement efforts to date are highly fragmented and subscale. Urgent action is needed to move the industry into a positive spiral of value capture, stronger economics, and better environmental outcomes. The report explains how stakeholders evolve toward a “New Plastics Economy” with three main ambitions:
- Create an effective after-use plastics economy by improving the economics and uptake of recycling, reuse, and controlled biodegradation for targeted applications
- Drastically reduce leakage of plastics into natural systems (in particular, the ocean) and other negative externalities
- Decouple plastics from fossil feedstocks by—in addition to reducing cycle losses and dematerializing—exploring and adopting renewably sourced feedstocks
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