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Study confirms need for urgent transition to a circular economy for plastic

July 23, 2020

Today, The Pew Charitable Trusts and SYSTEMIQ released Breaking the Plastic Wave, one of the most comprehensive and analytically robust studies ever produced on ocean plastics.

As a thought partner of the report, the Foundation along with the University of Oxford, University of Leeds, and Common Seas, has contributed its expertise on the circular economy and the plastics value chain. Read our perspective here.

Breaking the Plastic Wave shows that plastic pollution is rapidly outpacing efforts to stop it. By 2040, if we fail to act, the volume of plastic on the market will double, the annual volume of plastic entering the ocean will almost triple, and ocean plastic stocks will quadruple. This is in line with our 2016 analysis, which revealed that in 2050 there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean.

The Foundation’s perspective on the study, - The circular economy solution to plastic pollution - sets out clear urgent actions for businesses and governments, including:

  • ELIMINATE the plastics we don’t need, not just removing the straws and carrier bags, but rapidly scaling innovative new delivery models that deliver products to customers without packaging or by using reusable packaging.
  • Rapidly design all plastic items to be reusable, recyclable or compostable. It is also crucial to fund the necessary infrastructure, rapidly increasing our ability to collect and CIRCULATE these items. This will require around USD 30 billion on-going annual funding in a best case scenario
  • INNOVATE at unprecedented speed and scale towards new business models, product design, materials, technologies, and collection systems to accelerate the transition to a circular economy.

Breaking the Plastic Wave confirms that the vision of a circular economy for plastic is the only way to address plastic waste and pollution at the source. This is a vision that already unites 850+ organisations through the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment and the Plastics Pact network.

Compared with business-as-usual, the circular economy has the potential to reduce the annual volume of plastics entering our oceans by 80%, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25%, generate savings of USD 200 billion per year, and create 700,000 additional jobs by 2040.

"Breaking the Plastic Wave brings an unprecedented level of detail into the global plastic system, confirming that without fundamental change, by 2050 there could be more plastics than fish in the ocean. To turn the tide on plastic waste and pollution, we need to radically increase our efforts and speed up the transition to a circular economy. We must eliminate the plastics we don’t need, and drastically reduce virgin plastic use. We need to innovate to create new materials and reuse business models. And we need improved infrastructure to ensure all plastics we use are circulated in the economy and never become waste or pollution. The question is not whether a circular economy for plastic is possible, but what we will do together to make it happen."

- Dame Ellen MacArthur

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