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Global industry to recycle 70% of plastic packaging

Major firms have endorsed an action plan to increase the global recycling of plastic packaging by five times the current rate by leading an industry-wide transition on materials and design.

Major firms have endorsed an action plan to increase the global recycling of plastic packaging by five times the current rate by leading an industry-wide transition on materials and design.

The action plan is laid out in the New Plastics Economy, an initiative launched by the World Economic Forum and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation

The plan has been endorsed by more than 40 leading organisations representing the entire global plastics industry, from chemical manufacturers to consumer goods producers, retailers, public authorities and recyclers. 

Key partners include Amcor, Coca Cola, Danone, MARS, Novamont, Unilever and Veolia. 

Research feeding into the action plan has revealed that concerted action throughout supply chains could result in reuse and recycling of 70 per cent of all global plastic packaging, up from today’s rate of just 14 per cent. 

Without action, research estimates that there could be more plastics than fish in the ocean by 2050.

Global transition

The plan provides a clear transition strategy for firms in the industry to design better packaging, increase recycling rates and introduce new models for making better use of packaging.

“Minor changes in material, format and treatment can, in conjunction, make the economics of recycling viable and take us into a positive spiral of higher yields, lower costs and better design. The result will be plastic that remains a valuable material before and after use”, said Prof Dr Martin R. Stuchtey, co-founder of analytics firm SYSTEMIQ, which contributed to the research.

According to the research, 20 per cent of global plastic packaging could be profitably re-used, for example by designing innovative packaging models based on product refills. A further 50 per cent could be profitably recycled if improvements are made to packaging design. 

The remaining 30 per cent will never be recycled without more fundamental redesign and innovation, such as moving to different recyclable or compostable materials and developing better reprocessing technologies.

Industry support

Ellen MacArthur, founder of the resource efficiency focused Ellen MacArthur Foundation, said: “The New Plastics Economy initiative has attracted widespread support, and across the industry we are seeing strong initial momentum and alignment on the direction to take.”

Over the next year the New Plastics Economy initiative will launch two global innovation challenges to kick-start the redesign of materials and packaging formats, and begin building a set of global common standards for packaging design. 

Following the launch of the initiative, Unilever has announced its own pledge to take things further by ensuring that 100 per cent of its plastic packaging will be fully re-usable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

However, the industry faces a challenge with consumers, with new research suggesting that a third of people are still unsure which plastics can be recycled.