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 proficiency 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.

To date, Project MainStream has focused on these areas: 

The New Plastics Economy


The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics report, published in 2016, 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. In total, more than 180 experts were consulted during the report's development, including academics and NGOs.

The New Plastics Economy report focuses on key segments of the plastics economy and packaging. By collaborating with pivotal actors across the value chain, the report aims to establish an approach that can be applied across other material streams and will help to 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, digital transformation is reshaping the economy. Will this ‘fourth industrial revolution’ lead to an acceleration
 of today's extractive, ‘linear' economy, 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. Presenting high-level insights collected through over 45 interviews with leading thinkers in the field, and contributions from more than 30 different organisations (presented in a case study appendix) Intelligent Assets provides insights on how this innovation could enable the decoupling that leads to broad social benefits. 

Urban Biocycles

Biocycle Blue

Urban Biocycles focuses on the significant volume of organic waste that flows 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. This scoping 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 fibre constitutes almost 50% of paper globally, and recovery rates approach practical limits in developed markets. However, supply of recycled fibre is being stretched by rising demand, driving up recycled cellulose fibre (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. This will deliver an estimated US 1.4 billion, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to an estimated 1.1 Mt. It will also reduce the amount of forest land used for pulp and paper making.

The 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 which will prompt local regulations to follow.