Calls for More Recycling Heard at WEF

23.01.2017 -

A report first published in January 2016 and presented last week to a global audience at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, calls for a quantum leap in global recycling rates for plastic packaging — from 14% currently to 70%.

 “The New Plastics Economy: Catalysing Action,” which was drawn up by consultants McKinsey for the Isle of Wight, UK-based think-tank Ellen MacArthur Foundation and financed by several philanthropic donors, is being supported by major plastics producers and processors, including Dow Chemical, Borealis and Novamont, Amcor, Constantia Flexibles and Greiner. Several of the CEOs, including Dow’s Andrew Liveris, Ron Delia of Amcor and Alexander Baumgartner of Constantia were on hand in Switzerland to promote it.

While not making precise recommendations on how to proceed, the paper’s authors and backers tout it as business-driven transition strategy for better package design and increased recycling rates. Some of the proposals also have been reflected in the European Commission’s Circular Economy paper, including the replacement of single-use plastic bags with reusable bags, deposits on single-trip containers and the increased use of large returnable rigid packaging in shipping.

Plans call for to launch next year of two “global innovation challenges” next year to kick-start the redesign of packaging. A key idea is to develop a “Global Plastics Protocol” for packaging design. The plans’ promoters contend that 50% of plastics packaging in use today could be “profitably recycled” if improvements were made to packaging design and waste management systems.  Without fundamental redesign and innovation, the remaining 30% (by weight) will never be recycled and the equivalent of 10 billion garbage bags per year will be destined to landfill or incineration, the paper says.

A rethink of plastic packaging design and use “could drive systemic change,” commented Dominic Waughray, a member of the WEF’s executive committee. He said the plan “puts innovation at the heart of a strategy that could shift the entire system while unlocking a billion dollar business opportunity. Alignment along value chains and between the public and private sector is key to this.”

In a statement commenting on the report and the WEF presentation, the plastics section of the US chemical producers’ association, American Chemistry Council (ACC),  said that while it focuses on recycling – “an undeniably important element of material sustainability” –  critical issues of resource efficiency and greenhouse gas emission reductions must also be taken into account when setting policy to advance sustainability.

ACC said discussions building on this report “would benefit from focusing less on specific resins and more on the functionality of the package in its specific use. “In any case, it said, “life cycle studies consistently find that plastic packaging delivers more food and other products with significantly less environmental impact than alternatives.”