Improving Markets for Recycled Plastics

Trends, Prospects and Policy Responses

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Plastics have become one of the most prolific materials on the planet: in 2015 we produced about 380 million tonnes of plastics globally, up from 2 million tonnes in the 1950s. Yet today only 15% of this plastic waste is collected and recycled into secondary plastics globally each year. This report looks at why this is the case and what we can do about it, as the pervasiveness of plastics is becoming an urgent public health and planetary problem. Not only is the diffusion of waste plastics into the wider environment creating hugely negative impacts, but plastics production emits approximately 400 million tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions annually as a result of the energy used in their production, transport, and final waste treatment. Improved plastics collection and recycling represents a promising solution to these concerns.




This chapter sets out the motivation for the development of this report. It highlights the rapid growth in plastics production and use that has taken place in recent decades, and notes the increase in plastic waste generation and pollution that has occurred as a consequence. The risks associated with continued business as usual growth in plastics use are then discussed, and improved waste collection and recycling systems are identified as a key means of addressing the problem. The chapter concludes by highlighting the role that stronger and more stable markets for waste and recycled plastics could play in boosting recycling rates.


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