4 innovative ways to reuse plastic waste

(Credit: Unsplash)

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

Author: Kayleigh Bateman, Senior Writer, Formative Content


  • 175 nations have agreed to draw up the world’s first plastic pollution treaty.
  • Organizations around the world are already working on innovative ways to tackle plastic pollution.
  • This includes repurposing waste plastic as bricks, fuel or even sportswear.

Plans this month to create a legally binding global treaty to reduce plastic pollution could not have come quickly enough.

Some 11 million tonnes of plastic waste flow into our oceans every year, according to figures cited by the United Nations. Without action, this amount could triple by 2040.

Image: Twitter/@UNEP

World leaders have until 2024 to agree on a plastic pollution treaty, which will cover the full lifecycle of plastic – from manufacture to design and disposal.

While governments are working to draw up the treaty, some companies are already tackling the problem head on by converting plastic waste into other usable products.

Here are four innovative ways companies are reusing plastic waste.

An infographic showing the pathways of plastics into the ocean
Plastic pollution is a growing problem affecting all the world’s oceans. Image: WWF

1. Sustainable building materials

A Kenya-based start-up is turning plastic waste into sustainable building materials including paving blocks, paving tiles and manhole covers.

Waste plastic is collected and treated, combined with sand and then remoulded into bricks. So far, the organisation says it has managed to recycle more than 100 tonnes of plastic waste.

It has also created job opportunities for women and local youth groups who have become the garbage collectors.

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.

The Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP) is a collaboration between businesses, international donors, national and local governments, community groups and world-class experts seeking meaningful actions to beat plastic pollution.

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.

2. Lightweight sportswear

Engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are making fabric from polythene, the thin plastic often used for bags or food wrap.

The researchers have found a new way to weave the fibres together that allows water to escape. The result is a lightweight fabric that is ideal for use in sportswear such as trainers, vests and leggings.

The hope is that this will incentivize more recycling.

“Once someone throws a plastic bag in the ocean, that’s a problem. But those bags could easily be recycled, and if you can make polyethylene into a sneaker or a hoodie, it would make economic sense to pick up these bags and recycle them,” says Svetlana Boriskina, a research scientist who worked on the project.

3. Converting plastics into fuel

A pilot project in Zambia is creating fuel by burning tyres and other plastic waste in a reactor. The Central African Renewable Energy Corp is already making 600-700 litres of diesel and gasoline per day from 1.5 tonnes of waste.

And the company is seeking funding in order to scale up further. “At the peak of it, we hope that we will be able to contribute even 20%-30% of the current fuel used in the country,” chief executive Mulenga Mulenga explained to Reuters.

Breaking down the plastic or rubber requires a significant amount of energy. And planet-harming carbon dioxide is produced as part of that process. However, the project does help Zambia reduce waste at the same time as providing a source of fuel.

4. Turning ocean plastics into deodorant packaging

Start-up company PiperWai is repurposing ocean plastics into packaging for its line of natural deodorants.

PiperWai’s founder previously used glass and plastics to package her skincare line but started to look into more sustainable alternatives.

PiperWai now uses packaging produced from recycled ocean-waste plastic collected by fishermen, which is then cleaned and processed into high-quality packaging.

Global Plastic Action Partnership

The World Economic Forum created the Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP) to tackle the growing issue of plastic pollution. The partnership brings together governments, businesses and civil society to turn commitments into action.

The GPAP has also formed partnerships with decision makers in Indonesia, Ghana, Nigeria, Pakistan and Vietnam to accelerate the transition to a circular plastics economy.

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