Enabling a circular economy
There is a need for a critical shift away from the "take-make-dispose" model and towards circular systems that keep materials and products in use for as long as possible.
To do this, six interlinked gaps must be bridged. This demands systemic changes that require policymakers, corporates, investors, civil society and communities to work together.
Only then can we end plastic waste.
Six gaps to circularity
Despite increasing demand for recycled plastics, a shortfall in supply persists.
Poor coverage of waste management systems in many areas leads to low collection rates. This means that only a fraction of plastic waste gets recycled.
Better collection, sorting and processing practices can help.
Many in middle-and low-income countries do not have access to adequate controlled waste management services. Fit-for-purpose infrastructure will improve collection rates and reduce the impact of plastic waste leakage.
Current technical capabilities cannot adequately sort, process or recycle the range of plastic waste in use today.
Innovation that addresses these challenges and delivers quality feedstock could result in a better balance between costs and value, allowing recycled plastics to compete with virgin plastics.
The value of plastic packaging is lost every year because it is not collected and recycled. With fit-for-purpose infrastructure and recycling solutions, the value of these plastics can be captured and unlocked.
High infrastructure costs, volatile markets for recyclates, and low prices of virgin materials have led to market failure for plastic waste management.
Economic incentives and novel financing models can help make recycling more commercially viable and improve coverage globally.
Based on projected estimates for the 2021 - 2040 period. Improving the economics of plastics recycling could contribute to better management of plastic waste.
Products and packaging need to be designed as much for the use phase as for the post-use phase.
Reduce and reuse business models can help eliminate avoidable plastic and reduce waste, while designing for recycling could improve the quantity and quality of recyclates, and lower recycling costs.
By using simpler and fewer materials, as well as better labelling, the design of plastic products and packaging can be improved for recycling.
There is a lack of reliable local and global data to guide intervention along the plastics value chain
What is not measured cannot be used to inform better waste management strategies.
A standardised global monitoring framework will allow for more targeted interventions, and help ensure accountability.
Data is also absent or sparse for many developing countries, which are at higher risk of waste mismanagement.
Multiple and differing perspectives and priorities exist on the problems and solutions for ending plastic waste.
Increased stakeholder alignment allows for national and, eventually, international roadmaps to circularity to be agreed upon.
This maximises the impact of capital, innovation, and resources.
Approved a 2022 resolution for an international, legally binding instrument to end plastic pollution. The framework for this will be implemented in 2025.
Bridging the gaps
Sound waste management systems can prevent further leakage of plastic waste into the environment, while creating jobs and catalysing inclusive growth. Systems that support plastic waste collection and processing can also improve the quantity and quality of recyclates, while making recycling more commercially viable.
Many of the technologies necessary to drive circularity are underdeveloped. Funding and technical support will allow ideas to evolve, and become viable and scalable. This is critical to improving the economics of recycling and could also result in design and data-collection frameworks that better support it.
Education is critical to bringing about positive changes in attitudes and behaviour, which can help drive the transition towards circularity. It can also enhance household recycling literacy. Over the longer term, this can reduce waste, and help improve the quantity and quality of recyclates.
Even as plastic is being addressed at its source, the amount of plastic waste already in the environment must be dealt with, and where possible, fed back into the circular economy. Many hands can help restore clean and safe living environments. Cleanups also reinforce why changing habits and attitudes is important.