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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.

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Recycling plastics

This chapter sets out the environmental benefits of plastics recycling and summarises current patterns of plastics waste generation and recycling. Lower greenhouse gas emissions and reduced leakage of plastics into the natural environment are highlighted as the two key environmental benefits of increased plastics waste collection and recycling. Plastics waste generation and recycling rates are discussed in the context of different regions, product categories, polymers, and waste streams, and data is presented for each. Finally, the chapter concludes with an assessment of the key drivers of plastics recycling, and how these might drive higher recycling rates in the future.

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