Improving Markets for Recycled Plastics

Trends, Prospects and Policy Responses

image of Improving Markets for Recycled Plastics

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.



Markets and trade in waste plastics

This chapter focusses on markets for waste and recycled plastics. It begins with a stocktake of the key sources of information regarding trade in waste plastics, and notes that trade volumes represent a relatively small proportion (around 4%) of overall plastic waste generation. The major exporters and importers of plastics waste are then discussed alongside the potential implications of recent Chinese restrictions on the import of plastics waste. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the key factors that govern the competitiveness of secondary plastics. Four key factors are identified: the price of virgin plastics (those derived from fossil fuel inputs), the cost of supplying secondary sourced resin, the demand for recycled plastics, and the availability of alternative waste management options.


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