Plastics will exceed weight of fish in the ocean and industry continuing to see 95% of value of its products lost each year, with lack of a “circular economy”

January 22, 2016

By 2050 there will be more plastic waste in the ocean by weight than there are fish, based on current trends for waste disposal and over-fishing.

That is the eye-catching conclusion of a major new report from the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation unveiled at the Davos Summit yesterday, which argues the rapid disposal of plastic packaging is resulting in economic opportunities worth between $80bn and $120bn a year being lost.

The report, entitled The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the Future of Plastics, was produced in partnership with consultancy giant McKinsey and argues that without the rapid rollout of circular economy models the plastics industry will continue to see 95 per cent of the value of its products lost each year following a short first use.

The report argues that the plastics industry and policy-makers need to embrace a whole new approach to material disposal based on “creating effective after-use pathways for plastics; drastically reducing leakage of plastics into natural systems, in particular oceans; and finding alternatives to crude oil and natural gas as the raw material of plastic production”.

“This report demonstrates the importance of triggering a revolution in the plastics industrial ecosystem and is a first step to showing how to transform the way plastics move through our economy,” said Dominic Waughray, head or public-private partnership at WEF. “To move from insight to large-scale action, it is clear that no one actor can work on this alone. The public, private sector and civil society all need to mobilize to capture the opportunity of the new circular plastics economy.”

Martin R. Stuchtey of the McKinsey Center for Business and Environment said there was a compelling business case for the plastic industry to embrace circular economy thinking.

“Plastics are the workhorse material of the modern economy – with unbeaten properties,” he said. “However, they are also the ultimate single-use material. Growing volumes of end-of-use plastics are generating costs and destroying value to the industry. After-use plastics could – with circular economy thinking – be turned into valuable feedstock. Our research confirms that applying those circular principles could spark a major wave of innovation with benefits for the entire supply chain.”

The publication of the new report came on the same day as printing giant Lexmark issued a public call for the European Union to beef up regulation to encourage wider adoption of circular economy models for the printer industry and require firms to provide a free take-back facility for all printer cartridges they place on the European market.

Lexmark estimates that between 30,000 and 50,000 tonnes of printer cartridges end up in landfill each year as a result of the industry’s poor rate of collection from customers.

In a submission to the European Commission’s “Preparatory Consultation on the Circular Economy” it calls on policy-makers to introduce measures that “not only encourage the collection, reuse and recycling of printer cartridges in Europe, but also allow companies that apply good environmental practice to compete on fair terms with those that do not”.

Specifically, it said the EU should require all suppliers to provide a free take-back facility for cartridges they place on the European market, ensure all printer cartridges sold in Europe by 2020 include 50 per cent remanufactured components or be recyclable, and introduce incentives and procurement policies that encourage remanufacturing and recycling.

The company said its Lexmark Cartridge Collection Program (LCCP), which boasts a collection rate that is nearly twice the industry average at around 35 per cent, has shown how recycling a toner cartridge reduces its total carbon footprint by more than 50 per cent.

“With the European Commission having now published its new proposals for promoting the circular economy the timing is perfect to call on the printer cartridge industry in Europe to support measures to curb waste by encouraging reuse and recycling,” said Udo Schlauch, general manager for EMEA Annuities & Channel at Lexmark.