LAY OF THE LAND
Plastics are ubiquitous. Found in packaging, textiles, hardware, and consumer products, they offer performance at low cost, often with environmental benefit, for countless uses. Yet most plastic packaging and too many plastic products are eventually discarded after one use. When poorly managed, plastics waste fills our landfills and our environment. If current trends continue, global demand for plastics is forecasted to triple by 2050.
Many large corporations are making commitments to use more recycled plastics in their products and their packaging, and to reduce their carbon emissions – signaling demand for solutions that keep plastics in play. Suppliers are scrambling to meet this increasing demand, but the options today are limited. For the petrochemical industry, there is a lot at stake, too. The threats of being blamed or left out of the picture are increasingly driving change among the largest petrochemical companies and plastics manufacturers in the world. To address the current challenges – and the current demand – transformational technologies that accelerate circular supply chains for plastics are needed at scale.
A majority of the plastics used are never recovered: today, in the U.S. and Canada, about 90% of plastic waste ends up in a landfill or incinerated. When plastics are collected, many regions do not have the proper recycling infrastructure to properly and profitably sort, process and market much of this material. Manufacturers are further challenged to use recycled plastics in their current form because they often do not perform as well as prime, or virgin, plastics, due to degradation or contamination issues. Without a bold shift in approach, the mismanagement of plastics waste will worsen, resulting in the loss of valuable materials and missed opportunities to recover and harvest the value of these resources.
The good news is that innovative technologies exist – with even more emerging and scaling – to solve these challenges. These technologies are transforming waste plastics into building blocks for new materials. If these technologies are more widely adopted and scaled, tremendous economic value can be realized. According to our analysis, there is an existing $120 billion addressable market in the U.S. and Canada for plastics and petrochemicals that could be met, in part, by recovering waste plastics. This renewed resource could displace fossil fuels being used in these markets today. Furthermore, there are environmental benefits from recycling waste plastics back into a myriad of useful products. To reach this potential, more investment is urgently needed to support and scale these transformational technologies. We are calling on brands and investors to seize the opportunities presented by today’s landscape of innovators and the growing demand for recycled materials.
WHAT WE ARE DOING
The Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners is producing a report on Accelerating Circular Supply Chains for Plastics: A Landscape of Transformational Technologies that Stop Plastic Waste, Keep Materials in Play and Grow Markets. The report aims to inform investment strategies for consumer brands, chemical companies, and investment firms like Closed Loop Partners. We would like to understand the current landscape of emerging technologies and develop criteria for the evaluation of projects and opportunities – focused in particular on increasing the use of recovered and recycled plastics for a variety of safe and high-quality end uses. This report is part of a broader and ongoing commitment by Closed Loop Partners to accelerate solutions for more circular supply chains at scale. Over the past year, the Center has been exploring innovative technologies that effectively transform waste plastics into like-new materials. While many have tremendous potential, they also challenge us to expand our current definition of recycling. We will continue to invest, educate and explore in this space as the field develops.
If you are interested in participating in our ongoing research, convening, and investment in this area, we encourage you to introduce yourself to the Center for the Circular Economy: [email protected]