What do we mean when we talk about creating a circular economy? A circular economy, by design, is supposed to be regenerative. All the components that are part of this economy flow alongside each other in a closed loop-like system, and are not meant to be used once and discarded.
Now, can you imagine what would happen if we could make plastic a part of this circular economy? Globally to date, there are approximately 8.3 billion tons of plastic in the world, and almost 6.3 billion of that is garbage. In the light of this data, wouldn’t it be great if we could collectively figure out ways to recover value from the plastic, without causing damage to the environment?
According to a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, only 14% of the plastic packaging used globally is recycled, 40% ends up in landfills, and 32% in the rest of the ecosystem. We all know about the three Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle), but are yet to implement them in a way that benefits all stakeholders. Do a fundamental rethink about plastic reuse, and you will realise that it is possible to not only improve recycling and reuse, but also create a robust market for recycled and redesigned plastic products.
Currently, poorly designed markets for recycled plastics act as the biggest deterrent to creating a circular economy for plastics. While many organisations are making recyclability their priority, only a handful are thinking about their role in creating demand for recycled plastic products. The other barrier to achieving plastics circularity is that manufacturers of plastic have no incentive to to consider end-of-life use throughout the development process. If they did, these manufacturers would then easily be able to customise plastic to meet specific requirements, and ensure they can be repurposed at the end of their initial use, and also simplify the recycling processes.
One way to ensure plastic circularity is to resort to chemical recycling, using which the plastic can be stripped down to its original building block, and built up into brand new products such as pellets, soaps, bricks, and much more. Collaboration with different stakeholders, such as private corporations, recyclers, pyrolysis experts, government bodies, international development institutions, etc., can also help everyone innovate and find more uses cases for plastic waste, such as converting plastic to fuel. While we do this, it is also important to support initiatives that build economies of scale, deliver solutions at a local level while thinking global, and think of investing in recycling infrastructure in the long run. That way we can build a circular economy for plastic that benefits everyone – right from the bottom to the top.
Creating a circular economy for plastics offers a promising outlook for the world in terms of stemming the tidal wave of plastic waste. Once we ensure greater cooperation and coordination from all stakeholders in the value chain, it will become much easier to fulfill the vision of a no-garbage world.