Project MainStream

Project MainStream is a cross-industry, CEO-led global initiative that aims to accelerate business-driven innovations and help scale the circular economy.

Project MainStream leverages the convening power of the World Economic Forum, the circular economy innovation capabilities of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and the analytical capabilities of McKinsey & Company. The initiative was established following the publication of the 2014 report Towards the Circular Economy Vol.3, which proposed a joint plan of action for industry leaders to scale up the circular economy.

Project MainStream is led by the chief executive officers of nine global companies: Averda, BT, Tarkett, Royal DSM, Ecolab, Indorama Ventures, Philips, SUEZ and Veolia. It focuses on systemic stalemates in global material flows that are too big or too complex for an individual business, city or government to overcome alone, and on enablers of the circular economy such as digital technologies.

Project MainStream’s latest position paper on urban biocycles was published in early 2017.

During its first two years, Project MainStream has focused on three distinct initiatives:

The New Plastics Economy


The January 2016 report The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics demonstrates how applying circular economy principles to global plastic packaging flows could transform the plastics economy and drastically reduce negative externalities such as leakage into oceans.

The report draws on the expertise and contributions of a group of 40+ participant companies and cities along the global plastic packaging value chain, as well as extensive consultation with academics, experts and NGOs. In total, more than 180 experts were consulted during the report development.

By focusing on key segments of the plastics economy and packaging, collaborating with key actors across the value chain, the New Plastics Economy report aims to establish an approach that can be applied across other material streams and will help inform how the transition to a circular economy can be accelerated at scale.

For more information on the initiative, visit the New Plastics Economy website

Intelligent Assets


With up to 50 billion connected devices predicted by 2020, a pervasive digital transformation is reshaping the economy. Will this ‘fourth industrial revolution’ lead to an acceleration
 of the extractive, ‘linear’ economy of today, or will it enable the transition towards a society in which value creation is increasingly decoupled from finite resource consumption? The Project MainStream report Intelligent Assets: Unlocking the circular economy potential, which was launched publicly in February 2016, provides the first vision for how a digitally enhanced, prosperous circular economy could look.

The report finds that pairing circular economy principles with the information generated by intelligent devices creates a fertile ground for innovation that could enable this decoupling, and lead to broad social benefits. Intelligent Assets provides high-level insights collected through over 45 interviews with leading thinkers in the field, as well as the contributions of more than 30 different organisations which are presented in a case study appendix.

Urban Biocycles

Biocycle Blue

Urban Biocycles has been produced in collaboration with the World Economic Forum as part of Project MainStream. This new scoping paper focuses on the significant volume of organic waste flowing through urban environments, and highlights opportunities to capture value in the form of the energy, nutrients and materials, by applying circular economy principles. 

Organic waste, from municipal solid waste streams and wastewater from sewage systems, is traditionally seen as a costly economic and environmental problem. The paper draws on case studies from the US and Europe to explore the idea that designing more effective recovery and processing systems can reverse this equation, turning organic waste into a source of value and helping to restore natural capital.


Today, pulp and paper is a largely circular industry: recycled fiber constitutes almost 50% of paper globally and recovery rates approach practical limits in developed markets. However, supply of recycled fiber is being stretched by rising demand, driving up recycled cellulose fiber (RCF) costs and squeezing margins for recycled grades. This rising demand and the declining quality of collected RCF make it particularly important to capture remaining value leakage during collection, sorting, and processing.

Improved sorting and treatment of inks, additives, and contaminants could address such value leakage and increase the supply of RCF to meet new demand, thereby delivering up to an estimated $1.4 billion, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by up to an estimated 1.1 Mt as well as reducing forest land used for pulp and papermaking.

This project aims to facilitate these benefits by developing a set of pragmatic, efficient, eco-design rules for paper products, to give essential guidance for designers and developers without limiting innovation. The intention is to initiate an emerging global standard to prompt local regulations to follow.