Project MainStream launches three new programmes

January 23, 2015

Part of the World Economic Forum’s Circular Economy initiative, Project MainStream is run in collaboration with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and McKinsey & Company as the knowledge partner.

It aims to tackle ways of scaling the circular economy through materials management, information technology and business model innovation, among others. The project is driven by a steering board comprising the CEOs of Brambles, Brightstar, BT, Desso, Royal DSM, Ecolab, Indorama Ventures, Kingfisher, Royal Philips, Suez Environnement and Veolia. MainStream is also seeking to work with global Foundations and NGOs in this next phase of the project.

New circular economy programmes launched

Today sees Project MainStream launch this new project outline containing three programmes to accelerate the transition to a circular economy. These three new programmes usher in the first stage of MainStream’s implementation, which involves over thirty global companies working together to help redesign materials flows across the economy.

Focusing on plastic packaging, paper and paperboard and asset tracking, MainStream aims to advance collaboration across these major supply chains during 2015 in order to address current bottlenecks and leakages that result in loss of material value.

See below for more details on the three programmes.


Plastic packaging

This programme aims to close the gap between design of packaging and the design of municipal systems. Today’s systems, designed in isolation, result in almost all packaging being made from virgin materials, and used just once. This will be resolved by working with leading companies and cities to create an authoritative global plastic packaging roadmap, which aims to enable a 20-year transition to effective packaging solutions based predominantly on re-use and recycling of plastic.

Annual material demand for PET and polyester, which is used in plastic bottles and the textile industry, totals about 54 million tonnes, of which roughly 86% leaks out of the system. If Project MainStream can lay the foundation to optimise these flows of plastics, it is estimated that nearly $4 billion in value could be created from the better use of PET alone.

Paper and paperboard

Paper already has a relatively high global recycling rate at about 65%. However the challenge preventing fully circular flows lies in the many additives used in the product and packaging design process. The programme aims to define a set of simple design rules, with specific focus on chemical additives and inks, which could become a benchmark for policy makers around the world.

Total annual production of paper and paperboard will amount to about 480 million tonnes in 2020. Some 130 million of those tonnes leaks out of the system and can be addressed by this Project MainStream programme – the economic value of this leakage is worth an estimated $10 billion.

Asset tracking

The Industrial Internet and The Internet of Things has to date barely been deployed to extend across the length of and value of products’ lives. This asset tracking programme seeks to develop a design and implementation toolkit that includes technology choice, consumer incentives and collaborative information sharing architecture to address the information gaps that prevent better decision making on what to do with a product when a (first) user is finished with it. The initial focus will be on consumer electronics and medical equipment.

Globally, consumer electronics and household appliances with a cumulative value of roughly $390 billion reach end of life each year. Asset tracking could help unlock a potential value of about $52 billion annually in these sectors alone through more reuse, remanufacturing and recycling.


There has been significant progress in the transition to a circular economy, and Project MainStream aims to act as a catalyst by tackling the challenges and stalemates that organisations cannot individually resolve. This collaboration across global supply chains marks an important next phase for the circular economy, with a clear move towards systems-level change

Ellen MacArthur, Founder, Ellen MacArthur Foundation