By 2050 the world’s oceans could contain more plastics than fish (by weight), according to a new report.
The suggestion comes from the report by the World Economic Forum and Ellen MacArthur Foundation, entitled The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics, which says without intervention, and at the global rate of consumption, then this could be the reality.
The report outlines a vision for a new circular economy-approach to the global plastic packaging system, which aims for zero waste and a drastic reduction of “negative externalities” such as leakage into the oceans.
It acknowledges that plastics and plastic packaging are an integral part of the global economy and deliver many benefits, but say their value chains currently entail significant drawbacks.
Assessing global plastic packaging flows comprehensively for the first time, the report finds that most plastic packaging is used only once; 95 percent of the value of plastic packaging material, worth $80-120 billion annually (approx. £56-84bn), is lost to the economy.
In this context, it says “an opportunity beckons” for the plastics value chain to deliver better system-wide economic and environmental outcomes, while continuing to harness the benefits of plastic packaging. The New Plastics Economy, outlined in the report, envisages “a new approach based on creating effective after-use pathways for plastics; drastically reducing leakage of plastics into natural systems, in particular oceans; and decoupling plastics from fossil feedstocks.”
Achieving such systemic change, it says, will require major collaboration efforts between all stakeholders across the global plastics value chain – consumer goods companies, plastic packaging producers and plastics manufacturers, businesses involved in collection, sorting and reprocessing, 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 at scale. In line with the report’s recommendations, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation will establish an initiative to act as a cross-value-chain global dialogue mechanism and drive the shift towards a New Plastics Economy.
The report’s authors say its findings are timely: knowledge and understanding of the circular economy among business leaders and policymakers is growing, as demonstrated by the European Commission’s recent circular economy package and associated funding announcements; new technologies are unlocking opportunities in material design, reprocessing and renewable sourcing; developing countries are investing in after-use infrastructure; and governments are increasingly considering – and implementing – policies around plastic packaging.