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The Circular Economy in Plastic Packaging

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by Arin Ghosh , Senior Research Analyst – Packaging
1 January 2017

Plastics in packaging have gained major attention in waste management, leading to many policies aimed at introducing advancements into the circulation of plastic packaging materials. This would help to improve resource efficiency across the plastic packaging industry. Plastic production has increased. The circular economy incorporates a sustainable alternative model to the old linear model of “take, make, and dispose,” a prime driver of natural resource depletion, climate change, and adverse human health effects.

Conventional plastic packaging products (PE, PP, PVC, PS, etc.) are made from combining virgin fossil feedstock—originating in oil and natural gas—with water. To manufacture one kilogram of plastic packaging materials, around 185 liters of water are consumed. Presently, plastic packaging utilizes about six percent of global oil production, a proportion expected to surge to around 20 percent by 2050.

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, only 14 percent of used global plastic packaging is presently collected for recycling, while 40 percent ends up in landfills and 32 percent in fragile ecosystems. Therefore, as an alternative to reducing the usage of virgin plastic packaging material, more than 400 organizations have signed the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, including major consumer packaged goods brand owners such as Unilever, Keurig Dr Pepper, Nestlé, Coca-Cola, L’Oréal, Danone, Mars, and so on, as well as key packaging manufacturers such as Berry Global, Graham Packaging, etc.

The next steps are to move forward with action points to meet their commitments such as reducing the volume of virgin plastic packaging and increasing the usage of recycled plastics in packaging materials.

Planned Major Initiatives of Packaging Producers and Brand Owners

Presently, around 50 brand owners and retailers are expanding their reuse and refill schemes. A recycled plastic packaging content target of 5.4 million MT has been fixed for consumer goods brand owners and packaging producers by 2025. Consumer goods companies and retailers have already committed to increasing recycled plastic content to an average of 25 percent in 2025, compared to the current average of 2 percent.

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