Plastic consumption: Benefits from higher reusing rather than recycling
The World Economic Forum (@wef), in collaboration with Kearney, released the report “Future of Reusable Consumption Models” aiming to address environmental degradation caused by plastic pollution. The report provides an alternative plastic waste-reduction model. It goes beyond the current recycling model towards one that increases its reusing. It makes possible “to prevent almost half of annual plastic ocean waste by reusing just 10% of our plastics products”, with the involvement of consumers, companies and public sector.
Key findings of the report are as follows:
- Current consumption model combines a very short-term use and long-term environmental harm. Currently, 50% of global plastic production is for single use and only 14% of global plastic packaging is collected for recycling. The average working life of a disposable plastic shopping bag is 15 minutes. Solid waste has grown from 23 gigatonnes in 1990 to 78 gigatonnes in 2020 and it is projected 127 gigatonnes by 2050.
- The report calls to shift from merely “treating” or “handling” waste to simply never creating it in the first place. The report considers three scenarios, based in proposals already offered by some national governments, leading non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and multinational bodies. They show how much plastic waste could be reduced from ocean and landfills if a reuse model is adopted:
1. If between 10-20% of plastic packaging was reusable by 2030, equivalent to 7-13 million tonnes of plastic packaging, representing from 45% to 90% of annual plastic ocean waste, 10% to 25% of plastic landfill waste.
2. If between 20%-40%, equivalent to 13-26 million tonnes, from 90% to 185% of annual plastic ocean waste or 25% to 50% of plastic landfill waste.
3. If between 40-70% of all packaging were reusable, 26-46 million tones, representing from 185% to 320% of annual plastic ocean waste or 50 to 85% of plastic landfill waste.
- This profound change will require the involvement of consumers, changing its preferences towards sustainable products; companies, investing in innovation and advances in technology; and public sector incentivizing and enforcing circular-economy principles towards waste reduction models rather that current recycling model.