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The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics

Applying circular economy principles to global plastic packaging flows could transform the plastics economy and drastically reduce negative externalities such as leakage into oceans, according to this new report.

The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics provides, for the first time, a vision of a global economy in which plastics never become waste, and outlines concrete steps towards achieving the systemic shift needed.

The report was produced by the World Economic Forum and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, with analytical support from McKinsey & Company, as part of Project MainStream, a global, multi-industry initiative that aims to accelerate business-driven innovations to help scale the circular economy. It was financially supported by the MAVA Foundation.

Huffington Post: The Secret To Ending Plastic Waste And Its Devastating Impacts

The world is being choked by discarded plastic packaging, but until now very little has been done about it. That could all be about to change following groundbreaking research that shows it is possible to eradicate plastic waste if only all the participants in the supply chain, from consumer goods companies to plastics manufacturers, start collaborating. And a key player has already stepped up to help guide this revolution. …The study, titled "The New Plastics Economy,"(compiled by … the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, with analytical support from consultants McKinsey,) admits that finding a systemic solution “may take many years. But this should not discourage stakeholders or lead to delays -- on the contrary, the time to act is now.”


United Nations Environment Programme: Plastic and Microplastics in our Oceans – A Serious Environmental Threat

Litter is found in all the world's rivers, oceans and seas, even in remote areas far from human contact. The continuous growth in the amount of solid waste thrown away, and the very slow rate of degradation of most items, are leading to a gradual increase in marine litter found at sea, on the sea floor and coastal shores. It is an economic, environmental, human health and aesthetic problem posing a complex and multi-dimensional challenge.

Marine litter results from human behaviour, whether accidental or intentional. The greatest sources of it are land-based activities, including: wastes released from dumpsites near the coast or river banks, the littering of beaches from tourism and recreational use of the coast, fishing industry activities and ship-breaking yards. Storm-related events – like floods - flush the resulting wastes out to sea where they sink to the bottom or are carried on coastal eddies and ocean currents.

 All this can cause serious economic losses. Coastal communities are facing increased expenditure on beach cleaning, public health and waste disposal. The tourism sector has to deal with loss of income and bad publicity. The shipping industry is impacted by higher costs associated with fouled propellers, damaged engines, removing litter and managing waste in harbours. The fishing industry faces reduced and lost catch, damaged nets and other fishing gear, fouled propellers and contamination, which also affects fish farming and coastal aquaculture.

Plastic waste causes $13 billion in annual damage to marine ecosystems

Marine litter can also lead to loss of biodiversity and of ecosystem functions and services… entangling and potentially killing marine life, smothering habitat, and acting as a hazard to navigation. Microplastics are also raising concerns. Toxins including DDT, BPA and pesticides adhere to these tiny particles of plastics that can be accidently ingested by small aquatic life. Once ingested, the toxins biomagnify as they move up the food chain, accumulating in birds, sea life and possibly humans.

Causes of marine litter are both cultural and multi-sectoral, resulting from poor practices in managing solid wastes, a lack of infrastructure, insufficient understanding among the public of the potential consequences of its actions, inadequate legal and enforcement systems and a shortage of financial resources.

In June 2014, governments attending the first UN Environment Assembly noted with concern the impacts of plastics and microplastics on the marine environment, fisheries, tourism and development calling for strengthened action, in particular by addressing such materials at the source. A resolution was adopted calling for the strengthening of information exchange mechanisms, requesting UNEP to present scientific assessments on microplastics for consideration by the next session of the Assembly.  

McKinsey & Company: Saving the ocean from plastic waste

The amount of unmanaged plastic waste entering the ocean has reached crisis levels. On current trends, the global quantity of plastic in the ocean could nearly double to 250 million metric tons by 20251 —or one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish.

This is the critical finding of a joint report by the Ocean Conservancy and the McKinsey Center for Business and Environment, Stemming the tide: Land-based strategies for a plastic-free ocean. Our comprehensive investigation found that more than 80 percent of ocean plastic comes from land-based sources rather than ocean-based sources such as fisheries and fishing vessels. Of that 80 percent, three-quarters comes from uncollected waste, and the remainder from leaks from within the waste-management system itself.

Critically, our research found that more than half of the plastic leaking into the ocean comes from just five countries: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. As an immediate priority, we believe there is an opportunity to reduce plastic-waste leakage by 65 percent in these five countries—resulting in a 45 percent reduction globally—through measures including closing leakage points within the collection system, increasing waste-collection rates, using a variety of technologies to treat waste, and manually sorting high-value plastic waste.

Our report identified six cornerstones of a concerted program to stem global plastic-waste leakage:

1.  obtaining real and meaningful commitments from national governments, governors, and mayors to set and achieve ambitious waste-management targets

2. providing local “proofs of concept” for integrated waste-management approaches in a number of carefully selected pilot cities

3. building a best-practice transfer mechanism of global expertise to high-priority cities

4. ensuring required project-investment conditions are in place

5.  facilitating technology implementation by equipping technology providers with detailed data

6. bringing leadership and a strategic focus on solutions as part of the global policy agenda on the ocean

The total cost of implementing measures to reduce plastic-waste leakage is estimated at $5 billion a year and would, to a significant degree, be covered by existing commitments to build waste-management systems. Additional funding requirements could be met through typical project-financing mechanisms involving the public, private, and multilateral sectors.

Plastic-waste leakage is an enormous (and unintended) consequence of our attempt to provide a better material existence to millions of people through a constant series of innovations. But no one feels untouched by the sight of ocean litter, its impact on fauna, and the facts emerging research has brought to light. We believe there is a path forward that can generate significant benefits to communities, preserve the bioproductivity of the ocean, and de-risk industry. The time to act is now.

McKinsey & Company: Rethinking the water cycle

How moving to a circular economy can preserve our most vital resource.

Three billion people will join the global consumer class over the next two decades, accelerating the degradation of natural resources and escalating competition for them. Nowhere is this growing imbalance playing out more acutely than the water sector. Already, scarcity is so pronounced that we cannot reach many of our desired economic, social, and environmental goals. If we continue business as usual, global demand for water will exceed viable resources by 40 percent by 2030.

Many experts have claimed that wasteful treatment of water results from dysfunctional political or economic systems and ill-defined markets. But the real issue is that water has been pushed into a linear model in which it becomes successively more polluted as it travels through the system, rendering future use impossible. This practice transforms our most valuable and universal resource into a worthless trickle, creating high costs for subsequent users and society at large. Since the linear model is economically and environmentally unsustainable, we must instead view water as part of a circular economy, where it retains full value after each use and eventually returns to the system. And rather than focus solely on purification, we should attempt to prevent contamination or create a system in which water circulates in closed loops, allowing repeated use. These shifts will require radical solutions grounded in a complete mind-set change, but they must happen immediately, given the urgency of the situation.

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