Reusing a tenth of plastic products could halve ocean waste

It's possible to cut almost half of the world's annual plastic ocean waste by reusing just a tenth of plastics products, a major new study has found.


Based on data analysis and scenario modelling, a report from the World Economic Forum (WEF) suggests that between 10% and 20% of plastic packaging could be reusable by 2030, weighing 7-13 million tonnes, and representing 45-90% of annual plastic ocean waste.

Half of global plastic production is currently only for single use, and just 14% is collected for recycling, with ocean plastic waste thought to kill over one million marine animals every year.

If reusables were to make up between 20% and 40% of packaging, the modelling indicates that this would eliminate 90–185% of annual plastic ocean waste, or 25–50% of plastic landfill waste.

In the most optimistic scenario, where between 40% and 70% of all packaging is reusable, annual plastic ocean waste could be cut by 185-320%, or plastic landfill waste slashed by 50–85%. 

“It is worth emphasising that any of these scenarios would represent extremely valuable progress over the present status quo,” said Mayuri Ghosh, head of the WEF's Consumers Beyond Disposability initiative.

“The plastic waste challenge has grown too large for us to simply recycle our way out of. With no global agreement over an ambition level to target plastic waste, the sooner we can make systemic and meaningful advance towards reuse, the better.”

The WEF's projections are based on reuse production and consumption models proposed by governments and NGOs around the world, and research conducted with senior leaders from private and public sectors.

Its report addresses some of the key challenges businesses and the public sector have faced about reuse, and aims to give leaders in business, government, and civil society a clear picture of an alternative plastic waste-reduction model.

Furthermore, it calls for the public and the private sectors to collaborate on the development of reuse systems to meet the needs of the economy and the environment.

“The shift from disposable consumer goods to reusables is still in its early stages, but there are already signs of progress,” said Zara Ingilizian, the WEF's head of consumer industries and consumption.

“Just as recycling and composting were once considered eccentric and electric cars were written off as science fiction, when it comes to sustainability, attitudes about just what is viable are changing rapidly. Reuse may well prove to be among the most potent manifestations of that shift.”


Image credit: iStock


Chris Seekings is a reporter for TRANSFORM

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