Ethical Living Megatrend Briefing: Plastic – Lose It or Re-Use It?

Plastic, an influential part of modern society, is under scrutiny for its polluting presence in the global environment. There are visible and invisible pollutants. Greater awareness and growing ethical concerns about plastic waste is evident with circular thinking initiatives to design out surplus plastics, improve recovery and re-use, apparent. Current pressures are an opportunity to tackle plastic waste and advance towards zero litter.

 

Plastic, important contributor to modern society…

Plastic holds an influential role in shaping modern society, evident through its widespread application and growth in use from medicine, construction and transportation to consumer goods and packaging for everyday purchases. It is hard to imagine living without plastic.

Plastic Packaging Consumption by Region 2012/2017/2021

…but its pollution weighs heavy as societal concern

Concern about the sustainability of plastic is rising as the world faces up to the reality of the millions of tonnes of plastic waste amassing in the environment, garnering much attention across the media and as governments, NGOs and industry announce new initiatives targeting plastic.

 

Major users are major polluters

Plastic consumption and pollution levels are highest in populous regions of Asia and Africa where there is a lack of public awareness of the global harm that disposing of waste in local land and waterways has and a lack of formal waste infrastructure.

More than 300 million metric tonnes of plastics were produced in the world in 2015 with China the largest producer (accounting for over a quarter of global production). Aligned with its leading place in production of plastic, Asia Pacific is also the world-leading regional consumer of plastic. Asia Pacific’s retail demand for products packed in plastic surpassed one billion packs in 2017.

 

Single-use plastic: visible and invisible

Because of its short lifespan and noticeable presence as litter in the environment, visible plastic, commonly single-use plastic is under close scrutiny, ranging from beverage bottles and closures to food wrappers, grocery bags, and straws, to coffee cups/lids and take-away containers.

Recycling and recyclability pose concerns for consumers with action sought. Out-of-home consumption presents particular challenges on recycling, indicating the need for improved recovery solutions. There are also important invisible plastic pollutants to address including microbeads and microfibres.

 

Re-think on plastic is called for: be circular and committed

A global value chain re-think on plastic, from design through to recovery to re-use; this also presents opportunities. The current spotlight on plastic can be harnessed as a positive means to progress its sustainable development. Progress is being made on recovery and recycling, but tends to lag behind other materials.

There is certainly more to do, to assail the volumes of waste. A circular economy philosophy is part of the solution, so that plastic can have multiple lives. Advances require commitment, from manufacturers’ designs to consumers’ recycling behaviours.

 

A zero-waste society, the desired goal

A zero-waste society is the goal. Reaching this through mindful consumption and infrastructure investment can procure sustainable and economic gains. Greater recovery, recycling and re-use are key to improve plastic’s eco-credentials. Responsible handling is a global duty of all – governments, NGOs, corporate players and citizens – for the protection of our planet.

 

For more information, please contact Head of Packaging Research, Rosemarie Downey on rosemarie.downey@euromonitor.com.

This report is one of 8 new reports from Euromonitor’s megatrend analysis. Further details of the 8 reports can be found here: here

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