Reusing 10% will stop almost half of plastic waste from entering the ocean. Here’s how

(Credit: Unsplash)

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

Author: Zara Ingilizian, Head of Shaping the Future of Consumption; Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum & Mayuri Ghosh, Head of Consumers Beyond Disposability, Strategy & Public Private Partnerships, Future of Consumption Platform, World Economic Forum & Beth Bovis, Partner; Leader, Global Social Impact and Sustainability, Kearney


  • Pollution created by single-use plastic items like straws and shopping bags is a growing threat to our ecosystems and economies.
  • A system based on reuse would not only reduce humanity’s ecological footprint, but also create lucrative new sources of economic value.
  • Government agencies, multinational bodies, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have already begun outlining scenarios for reuse.

The amount of waste generated by humanity represents a growing threat to our ecosystems and economies. The output of solid waste has grown from 25 gigatons (yes, that’s 25 billion tons) in 1990 to 86 gigatons in 2020 – and a projected 140 gigatons by 2050.

This expansion exceeds population growth, and is the result of a disposable-goods system that combines short-term use and long-term environmental harm. Half of all plastic production is for single-use items. To get a sense of how ephemeral a “single use” can be, consider that the average working life of a disposable plastic shopping bag is just 15 minutes.

The Future of Reusable Consumption Models insight report, published by The World Economic Forum’s Future of Consumption Platform in collaboration with Kearney, highlights innovative solutions. It finds that the key will be to move from a “linear” waste economy – in which a product’s existence follows a one-way line from manufacture to usage to the landfill – to a “circular” economy in which items are reused or recycled indefinitely. The report shows that reuse models are not only viable, but also capable of generating added value across the economy.

At the moment, only a fraction of our plastic waste – 14%, according to a report by the World Economic Forum and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation – gets recycled. Only 2% is “effectively recycled”; that is, converted into an equally useful item. Most recycled plastic is “downcycled” into something less useful than before, and is only recycled once before heading to a landfill or the ocean. Instead of devoting resources to waste removal and treatment, we need to focus on eliminating waste.

The Future of Consumption Platform aims to forge responsible models of consumption that are equitable, promote societal wellbeing and protect the planet. Its Consumers Beyond Disposability initiative brings together leading private- and public-sector organizations committed to offering consumers sustainable and affordable alternatives to single-use products.

The world in a coffee cup

Reuse shifts value, adding it toward the end of the life-cycle of a container (in sales, returns and refills) and away from the beginning (material extraction, manufacturing). This shift creates opportunities for companies involved in the production of new materials, sanitization, refilling, branding, and retail.

To get a sense of how such shifts might play out in the real world, we analyzed the profit impacts of a returnable coffee cup. Even in the sectors that initially lose value, there are opportunities to gain value at other points in the reuse process. At a given point in scale, governments, sorting/sanitization and retailers received the most added value. Manufacturers of disposables and private waste management responsible for disposing of them bear the burden of lowered demand.

Pioneers of reuse

Companies large and small are already taking advantage of the potential of reuse to create value. Loop, a subsidiary of TerraCycle, has established partnerships with leading retailers to allow customers to borrow brand-name packaging, which is fully recyclable after 20 to 100 uses. As of December 2020, Loop had enlisted over 100 brands globally and offered over 400 products. https://www.youtube.com/embed/nLKe0uK9nuE?enablejsapi=1&wmode=transparent

Chilean startup Algramo has recently broken into the US market with its innovative refill-on-the-go distribution model. After a one-time container purchase, a customer may refill a range of liquid cleansers from dispensing machines at participating stores. Producers signing onto the program include market-heavyweight brands, such as Clorox and Pine-Sol.

Governments and NGOs worldwide are partnering with companies to demonstrate reuse models. One example is the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, organized by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. This unites businesses and governments in the effort to reduce plastic waste and pollution at the source. Corporate signatories to the commitment include companies representing 20% of all plastic packaging produced globally.

Other partnerships operate at a city level. In Seoul, Share Hub connects municipal agencies, companies, and residents who can exchange knowledge, present initiatives, and connect with resources to advance circular solutions. ReLondon is a partnership between the mayor of London and the city’s boroughs that offers grants and consulting advice to businesses seeking to implement reuse programs. Plastic

What is the World Economic Forum doing about plastic pollution?

More than 90% of plastic is never recycled, and a whopping 8 million metric tons of plastic waste are dumped into the oceans annually. At this rate, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050.

In Ghana, for example, GPAP is working with technology giant SAP to create a group of more than 2,000 waste pickers and measuring the quantities and types of plastic that they collect. This data is then analysed alongside the prices that are paid throughout the value chain by buyers in Ghana and internationally.

It aims to show how businesses, communities and governments can redesign the global “take-make-dispose” economy as a circular one in which products and materials are redesigned, recovered and reused to reduce environmental impacts.

Read more in our impact story.

A matter of scale and commitment

Large-scale reuse programs attain a level of value that a low-scale approach simply cannot match. Achieving that scale will require both ingenuity and commitment from a variety of market participants. The public sector can lower the barriers to companies scaling up these initiatives by developing the necessary infrastructure, establishing regulatory standards and forming public-private partnerships.

The report lays out three possible scenarios for the development of reuse by 2030. Anyof these scenarios would represent major progress over the status quo. In scenario 1, at least 10% of all packaging would be shifted away from single-use and toward reusables – the equivalent of at least 7 million tonnes of plastic. In scenario 3, as much as 26-46 million tonnes would be shifted away from disposables, and plastic waste would be virtually eliminated from our oceans.

Future of Reusable Consumption Models, World Economic Forum and Kearney insight report, July 2021
Source: Future of Reusable Consumption Models, World Economic Forum and Kearney insight report, July 2021

Companies, government agencies and NGOs urgently need to consider these scenarios and take tangible steps toward realizing the business opportunities they open up. The coming years could usher in a new age of consumer access to these new models of consumption. While this will not be easy, it would be a truly historic moment in history – as important in its own way as any of the Industrial Revolutions.

the sting Milestones

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

Australia urged to evacuate offshore detainees amid widespread, acute mental distress

Any doubt?

From funders to partners: elevating community expertise to help communities thrive

German opposition win in Lower Saxony felt all over Europe

London is becoming the world’s first National Park City

Yemen consultations have started, insists top UN negotiator

Commission approves emergency measures to protect eastern Baltic cod

How data can help mining companies tackle their trust deficit

From drought to floods in Somalia; displacement and hunger worsen, says UN

From raised fists at the 1968 Olympics to taking the knee: A history of racial justice protests in sport

Will the European Court of Justice change data privacy laws to tackle terrorism?

This is how travel hotspots are fighting back against overtourism

Do all you can to resolve climate change ‘sticking points’ UN chief urges South-East Asian leaders, in Bali

Four lessons from Africa on building effective business ecosystems

Australian homes are turning to solar power in record numbers

European research priorities for 2021-2027 agreed with member states

Meeting the basic needs of our healthcare workers

Mental health: a medical school’s demand

Embracing the diversity in a multicultural city of Romania

The EU Commission lets money market funds continue the unholy game of banks

How the power of sport can bring us together and drive social justice

EU Blue Card: Commission welcomes political agreement on new rules for highly skilled migrant workers

Why building consumer trust is the key to unlocking AI’s true potential

Ukraine’s new political order not accepted in Crimea

Protecting European consumers: toys and cars on top of the list of dangerous products

This is how New York plans to end its car culture

Progress against torture in Afghan detention centres, but Government needs to do more, says UN report

European Citizens’ Initiative: Commission registers ‘Mandatory food labelling Non-Vegetarian / Vegetarian / Vegan’ initiative’

Is South Korea set to lose from its FTA with the EU?

Anti-vaccers: does the empty can rattle the most?

The role of public affairs in student NGOs

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

Latin America’s cities are ready to take off. But their infrastructure is failing them

Political power of women suffering ‘serious regression’, General Assembly President warns

7 top things to know about coronavirus today

How global trade can save lives and livelihoods – and help protect the planet

EU job-search aid worth €9.9 million for 1,858 former Air France workers

European Semester 2018 Spring Package: Commission issues recommendations for Member States to achieve sustainable, inclusive and long-term growth

COVID-19: Save European culture and values, MEPs tell Commission

Children suffering ‘atrocities’ as number of countries in conflict hits new peak: UNICEF

We need to rethink ESG to ensure access to water and sanitation for all

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

Rise in violent conflict shows prevention ‘more necessary than ever’: UN chief

Top UN political official updates Security Council on Iran nuclear deal

It’s not summer holidays what lead to the bad August of the German economy

How can the world end viral hepatitis by 2030? 5 experts explain

How to talk about climate change: 5 tips from the front lines

Failure to open accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia is a mistake

Myanmar doing too little to ensure displaced Rohingya return: UN refugee agency chief

Further reforms in Sweden can drive growth, competitiveness and social cohesion

EU-UK relations: solutions found to help implementation of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland

Statistics show the ugly face of youth training schemes

Croatian Presidency outlines priorities to EP committees

Media and entertainment in flux: it’s time for the close-up

5 droughts that changed human history

Are the G20 leaders ready to curb corporate tax-avoidance?

European Youth, quo vadis?

China is the first non-EU country to invest in Europe’s €315 billion Plan

EU institutions agree on priorities for coming years: A common agenda for our recovery and renewed vitality

Coronavirus Global Response: EIB and Commission pledge additional €4.9 billion

More Stings?

Comments

  1. People don’t care about recycling. I believe we need new technology or innovations to reduce the wastes drastically like burning them and convert the fumes to breathable and so on.

  2. Very detailed content! In my opinion, the governments must copy Japan if they want their waste to be reduced because the people in Japan are very strict and disciplined. You can’t find any garbage all around Japan.

  3. You are so right.

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