Breathing life into plastic waste

The first phase of a new Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) research project that I am directing, on “Rethinking plastics in a circular economy”, sponsored by Dow, has just been released. There is significant value to extract from plastic waste. Scaling up advanced chemical recycling technologies could help close the loop and create a circular system for plastic waste that is currently leaking into the ocean.

The applications of many modern materials, such as titanium, concrete and plastic, are myriad and well known—from cars and buildings to medical products and food packaging. Their use creates value for business and society. However, what happens to these materials after they have been used remains an issue.

Globally, dry recyclables—plastic, paper and cardboard, metal, and glass—comprise nearly 40% of total waste generated. Improper disposal, collection and treatment mean that a large share of waste leaks into the natural environment. For instance, although plastic constitutes only 12% of waste generated, it makes up 80% of waste found in the ocean, with the remaining consisting of chemicals, pesticides and other materials.

Read more about the study at

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