A major new report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the World Economic Forum and McKinsey consultants has shown that we are currently headed for an ecological crisis in our oceans, but that we can prevent it with determined and coordinated action on how we handle plastics.

The report, ‘The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics’, garnered widespread media attention, especially for its projections on the effects of plastics on our marine environment. It highlighted that under today’s short first cycle, 95% of plastic packaging material, with a value $80–120 billion annually, is lost to the economy. 32% of plastic packaging escapes collection systems globally, and much of this then becomes marine litter.

The report is, however, more focused on solutions than on further analysis of the problems, and it sets out a detailed vision for dealing with plastics on a global scale. It proposes a ‘New Plastics Economy’, one that drastically increase levels of recycling and reuse of plastic, to prevent marine litter and other negative consequences of the current system.

At the heart of this would be a ‘global plastic protocol’ to set core industry standards on plastic usage, design, labelling, reuse and end of life treatment. This protocol aims to ensure that plastic is used in a smart manner, that harmful additives are removed, and that the ease of recycling is prioritized. This would mean that the most harmful types of plastic, such as expanded polystyrene, are restricted as much as possible and other types are clearly marked to enable easier sorting and recycling. The ultimate goal is to have a globally recognised plastic packaging design standard, global labelling and material marketing standards, and to transform markets for recycled plastics.

New Plastics Economy infographic

The report highlights that a starting point for the protocol should be global design guidelines. These could focus on replacing those formats and/or material designs that impede sorting and/or reprocessing with known, effective alternatives. Seas At Risk fully supports this proposition – the most harmful applications of plastic need to be ended. Small,  low-value plastic packaging such as tear-offs have challenging after-use economics and a high likelihood of leakage be investigated, a move that could have a swift effect on the amount of plastic litter entering the seas. Another innovative suggestion is looking at various packaging reuse models, such as the ‘physical internet’ based on reusable, shareable standardized containers for the logistics industry.

The full report is available for viewing and downloading here.

Seas At Risk welcomes the global level of ambition of this report, and will encourage those working on the EU’s Circular Economy proposals to consider its detailed solutions.

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