Copyright 2017 by World Economic Forum. All rights reserved.
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Report

March 12, 2017

The New Plastics Economy — Rethinking the future of plastics

Publisher(s): McKinsey & Company, World Economic Forum, Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Funder(s): MAVA Foundation pour la Nature

Author(s):

Plastics have become the ubiquitous workhorse material of the modern economy — combining unrivalled functional properties with low cost. Their use has increased twenty-fold in the past half-century and is expected to double again in the next 20 years. Today nearly everyone, everywhere, every day comes into contact with plastics — especially plastic packaging, the focus of this report.

While delivering many benefits, the current plastics economy has drawbacks that are becoming more apparent by the day. After a short first-use cycle, 95% of plastic packaging material value, or USD 80–120 billion annually, is lost to the economy. A staggering 32% of plastic packaging escapes collection systems, generating significant economic costs by reducing the productivity of vital natural systems such as the ocean and clogging urban infrastructure. The cost of such after-use externalities for plastic packaging, plus the cost associated with greenhouse gas emissions from its production, is conservatively estimated at USD 40 billion annually — exceeding the plastic packaging industry’s profit pool. In future, these costs will have to be covered. In overcoming these drawbacks, an opportunity beckons: enhancing system effectiveness to achieve better economic and environmental outcomes while continuing to harness the many benefits of plastic packaging. The ‘New Plastics Economy’ offers a new vision, aligned with the principles of the circular economy, to capture these opportunities.

With an explicitly systemic and collaborative approach, the New Plastics Economy aims to overcome the limitations of today’s incremental improvements and fragmented initiatives, to create a shared sense of direction, to spark a wave of innovation and to move the plastics value chain into a positive spiral of value capture, stronger economics, and better environmental outcomes. This report outlines a fundamental rethink for plastic packaging and plastics in general; it offers a new approach with the potential to transform global plastic packaging materials flows and thereby usher in the New Plastics Economy.