The world is crying out for a solution to the plastics problem, not only because of the huge amount of fossil-based oil that is needed for its production, but also because too often used plastics end up discarded in nature. A lot of will is required from governments, companies and consumers to make the change.
There are good solutions to the world’s plastic problem, but they need massive implementation.
- We need to collect all plastics after use, whether they are used for 1 second or for over 100 years.
- We need to recycle all plastics, mechanically and chemically, to make new products from recycled materials instead of virgin crude oil origin.
- We need to start feeding the production with bio-based content to finally decouple from fossil origin feedstock
All these changes need to be implemented in extraordinary scale. The investments into new recycling and bio-based feedstock capacity must exceed the growth of the fossil origin materials by a factor of two at least to have a substantial impact.
Plastics are valuable even after use and the material should be kept circulating as long as possible.
The increased awareness of the fact that all materials have a value even after use, already sets the right tone. The collection of recyclable plastics would be a lot easier if used plastic materials, whether it’s been in consumer or industrial use, had a globally acceptable value. There are already a number of collection schemes in place in the world that work well with beverage bottles. Such schemes are already very efficient, reaching over 90% return rate in various countries. Bottles are equipped with deposit scheme logos and machines read the EAN codes from the packaging before returning the refundable deposit. How can we make the same happen for all plastics and extend the beverage bottle scheme to plastic packaging and other plastic items?
Pöyry is set to act on the plastics problem
The annual plastics production will soon reach 400 million tons. Unless we take action, we will produce over 1 billion tons in 2050. Even if we take all the known possible measures, the growth will be so immense that we will reach a level of 700-800 million tons of plastics of annual production by 2050. This is driven not only by the population growth, which is set to grow by 50% in the next 30 years, but also by the growth of the middle class. The number of middle class citizens, living in highly urban areas, is set to grow by 2 billion in the same period. Given all this, the global plastics problem is crying out for a solution. Unless mankind starts to take responsibility for the waste, we will drown in plastics, and all sorts of other waste, in no time.
Logos for plastics deposit schemes
In order to enable easier collection of used plastics, a value must be set for them. Each plastic item would have a universal logo on which signifies the recyclability and refundability of that plastic packaging. These logos state indicatively the deposit value of that packaging as 0.1 or 0.2 units per piece in the relevant currencies, or alternatively, as a definite value of, for example, 0.05 unit per kg.
How does a deposit scheme work in practice?
Similar schemes are already in use in various countries either on national or retail chain level. A partnership and value chain is set up between the retailers and recyclers in such a way that when a consumer buys a product from a store, a deposit value of e.g. $0.1 is charged by the cashier to the consumer for the packaging. When returning the used packaging to the allocated shops, the bar code is read by a collection machine, which then returns either money or a receipt which indicates the deposited value. This amount of money can then be discounted from the next purchase in the same store. The returned plastic packaging is then regularly collected, transported and sorted for recycling and material reuse. In this way, the scheme demonstrates to consumers that the plastic packaging has a value and should not be discarded, but instead returned to the shop for recycling.
is currently produced every year
At Pöyry, we are set to start solving the world’s plastics problem. Contact us to find out how we can join forces, and be the solution together.