Plastic is a global problem. It’s also a global opportunity

plastic .jpeg

Nivati Fort Rd, Nivati, India (Unsplash, 2019)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Peter Lacy, Senior Managing Director, Accenture Strategy & Wesley Spindler, Circulars Program Director, Accenture Strategy & Cathy McAndrew, Innovation Lead, Circulars Team, Accenture Strategy


Plastic: a most versatile and ubiquitous material, it is difficult to imagine life without it. Despite the growth it has enjoyed for decades, the detriment caused to society and the environment by its abundance can no longer be ignored. With 13,000 pieces of plastic litter found in every square kilometre of ocean, and the manufacture of four plastic bottles producing a level of greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to travelling one mile in a medium-sized petrol car, there has never been a more pressing time to reinvent traditionally linear modes of production.

Antoine Frérot, CEO of Veolia, notes the steep increase in plastic production over the last half-century, from 15 million tonnes during the 1960s to a reported 311 million tonnes in 2014. This figure is expected to triple by 2050, when plastic production may account for 20% of global annual oil consumption.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates the costs arising from single-use plastics, together with those of the greenhouse gases emitted during production, to be $40 billion. This staggering figure exceeds the current plastic industry’s profit pool and further strengthens the arguments for why current plastic production and consumption must be curbed. It simply no longer makes financial, social or environmental sense.

As the global movement to protect the planet against spiralling plastic production continues to gain momentum and the industries responsible for its production face new heights of scrutiny, a new plastics opportunity has emerged for business to both create value and drive more sustainable practice simultaneously.

Plastic as its own raw material

With this new plastics opportunity in mind, could plastic become its own solution? If the cornerstone of circular economy thinking is applied to plastics; if economic growth is decoupled from limited natural resource use; and if new ways are found to reuse plastic products already in existence – the versatility of plastic may span new heights, create new value for businesses and protect and future-proof our planet.

If regulatory and voluntary measures prioritizing recycling and recovery can also align with sustainable innovation and new technological advancements, the global need for virgin plastic could be dramatically reduced. For example, at present the treatment, recycling and collection of plastic packaging varies depending on the plastic type in question. This makes the appropriate action to take unclear, and disincentivizes correct resource-recovery practices. As some suggest, a global standardization of plastic packaging types may be one solution to this issue. This could be realized through a fusion of public sector collaboration to create effective policies, coupled with self-regulated industry standards – resulting in improved recycling rates and easier resource recovery.

The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment was announced by UN Environment and the Ellen McArthur Foundation in October 2018 and has more than 290 signatories. The commitment shows that many major public and private actors are now advocating for a circular economy model that closes the loop on plastics production and encourages innovative reuse. It is the view of these organizations that with the correct regulatory and policy boundary conditions, incentives and price signals, improved environmental consequences and increased economic growth can be concurrently achieved.

By closing the loop, plastics would no longer be classified as waste. They would instead act as a key source of value, entering and re-entering the value chain as technical and biological inputs. This closed-loop solution has gradually begun to gain momentum as businesses realize the potential size of the prize on the table now that the technology exists to enable the use of plastic as a raw material in future plastic production.

Technological innovation driving change

The era which we are entering, known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, is defined largely by rapidly developing technological capabilities. The World Economic Forum and Accenture Strategy have identified three types of technologies that support the transition to a circular economy, which span the digital, physical and biological realms. Sustainable innovation must be at the heart of the development of the technological capabilities that are fundamentally altering the world in which we live. A sustainable plastics innovation engine is already whirring into life, with many pioneering companies such as Banyan Nation, Evian & Loop Industries, Bureo and Perpetual Global using these Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies to lead the charge in creating a new, waste-free plastics reality.

One of India’s first vertically integrated plastic recycling companies and the Circulars People’s Choice Award Winner for 2018, Banyan Nation has developed a pioneering technology capable of converting collected post-consumer and post-industrial plastic wastes into high-quality recycled granules, known as Better Plastic™. These granules are comparable in quality and performance to virgin plastic. Banyan’s award-winning data intelligence platform integrates thousands of informal recyclers into their supply chain, providing job security and improved livelihoods, in addition to helping cities manage their waste more effectively

In a similarly innovative move, Perpetual has developed and brought to market a sustainable and cost-effective technological process that alters post-consumer PET bottles into high-quality, sustainable (poly)ester used to make new bottles, packaging film and textiles. This ester can directly replace other esters that have a higher carbon footprint.

Water giant Evian, in partnership with ground-breaking tech company Loop Industries, has publicly pledged that all its water bottles will be manufactured from recycled plastic by 2025. Loop Industries has developed a technological solution that enables the creation of high-quality plastic resin for Evian’s bottles without making any more plastic. Loop Industries’ technology uses a catalyst that can separate PET plastic into its individual monomers without heat or pressure. These monomers can then be remoulded into plastic resin and can subsequently filter out impurities, creating virgin-quality PET plastic resin at scale.

Where reduced resource use and increased economic gains are championed, plastic’s use as a raw material has the capacity for transformative change. Inspiring actors, such as Bureo, have already begun to showcase plastic’s value as a raw material. For example, Bureo’s ‘Netplus’ materials, made from discarded fishing nets, are being incorporated into the supply chains of industry-leading businesses such as Patagonia, and in the ‘Untangled Collection’ of Costa sunglasses. Since 201

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

A Europe that Protects: Commission calls for decisive action on security priorities

How the diaspora is helping Venezuela’s migration crisis

GSMA Mobile 360 Series – Latin America, in association with The European Sting

1 million citizens try to create a new EU institution

Can free trade deliver cheaper renewable energy? Ask Mexico

On the first day of 2019, over 395,000 babies to be born worldwide: UNICEF

Qualcomm to be the next target of EU antitrust regulators? China might be the answer

Scoring for the environment: what Mathieu Flamini’s top-flight football career taught him about leadership

CEOs in these countries are more likely to go with their gut

Pandemic mental health: the urgency of self-care

Financing fossil fuels risks a repeat of the 2008 crash. Here’s why

Changing how we produce and consume: New Circular Economy Action Plan shows the way to a climate-neutral, competitive economy of empowered consumers

Your smartphone may know more about your mental health than you

Future Forces Forum: Prague will be hosting the most important project in the field of Defence and Security

Gig workers among the hardest hit by coronavirus pandemic

EU budget: Reinforcing Europe’s cultural and creative sectors

Stepped-up efforts needed to combat pneumonia; save nearly nine million children’s lives

COVID-19: What to know about the coronavirus pandemic on 6 April

Brexit and migration dominates the debate on October’s EU summit

EU-Turkey relations: Will Turkey manage to revive the EU accession process talks?

European Semester Autumn Package: Creating an economy that works for people and the planet

Burundi: Inclusive dialogue ‘only viable option’ for resolving country’s political crisis says, UN envoy

EU Youth Conference in Amsterdam: enabling young people to engage in a diverse, connected and inclusive Europe

Africa-Europe Alliance: first projects kicked off just three months after launch

Here are 4 of the most politically charged World Cup games ever played

This chart shows the total number of COVID-19 cases and recoveries so far

Supporting the recovery: MEPs adopt budget priorities for 2021

This is how the Western Balkans will become more innovative

EU out to conquer African Union summit

Nearly half a billion people can’t find decent work; unemployment set to rise: new UN labour report

With potential to boost profits by up to 20 per cent, a woman’s place is at work, says UN labour agency

Junior Enterprises as a solution for Youth Entrepreneurship

Spring 2019 Economic Forecast: Growth continues at a more moderate pace

UN chief condemns suspected Boko Haram attacks targeting Eid al-Fitr celebrations in Nigeria

IMF: The near-term outlook for the U.S. economy is one of strong growth and job creation

Capital Markets Union: Making it easier for insurers to invest in the real economy

Germany loves a strong euro; the new Fiscal Councils can deliver despite the Greek chaos and a wider questioning of austerity

Can Greece’s devastating economy deal with the migration crisis?

Do men and women really have different leadership styles?

We can build a carbon-neutral world by 2050. Here’s how

New identity cards deliver recognition and protection for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

Indonesian tsunami death toll climbs over 400 as Government-led relief efforts are stepped up

These 11 EU states already meet their 2020 renewable energy targets

International Court of Justice orders Pakistan to review death penalty for Indian accused of spying

Mother of all mergers between Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram: EU Data Privacy restrictions against Facebook’s imperialistic plans

Antibiotics are contaminating the world’s rivers

New ECB boss quizzed for the first time by Economic Affairs Committee

MEPs back update of rail passenger rights across EU

Batteries included: how better storage can transform renewable energy

Venezuelan crisis: MEPs reaffirm their support for Juan Guaidó

‘Reasons to hope’ for sustainable peace in Central African Republic – UN Mission chief

Four million Syrian children have only known war since birth: UNICEF

Germany fears that Americans and Russians want to partition Europe again

Radio still a powerful worldwide tool for ‘dialogue, tolerance and peace’: Guterres

More women and girls needed in the sciences to solve world’s biggest challenges

Stronger partnerships with post-conflict countries needed to ensure ‘path towards durable peace’: UN chief

I accidentally went viral on TikTok. I learned we failed our youngest generation.

Code of Practice against disinformation: Commission calls on signatories to intensify their efforts

To retire at 65, American millennials need to save almost half their paycheck

New EU rules cut red tape for citizens living or working in another Member State as of tomorrow

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s