World Economic Forum: Targeting 10 per cent plastics reuse could halve ocean plastic waste


Reusing just 10 per cent of plastic products worldwide could halve the amount of plastic waste which ends up in the oceans each year, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF).

A report led by the think tank in collaboration with consultancy firm Kearney aims to demonstrate how adopting reuse models of plastics instead of single-use consumption could play a major role in reducing plastic waste.

Currently, 50 per cent of global plastic production is for single use and only 14 per cent is collected for recycling, but reuse models are becoming more popular around the world and focus on designing items to be used multiple times, both preventing the use of single-use plastics and adding value to the product, the report explains.

"The shift from disposable consumer goods to reusables is still in its early stages, but there are already signs of progress," explained Zara Ingilizian, head of consumer industries and consumption at the WEF. "Just as recycling and composting were once considered eccentric and electric cars were written off as science fiction, when it comes to sustainability, attitudes about just what is viable are changing rapidly. Reuse may well prove to be among the most potent manifestations of that shift."

The report is based on research conducted around the world, data analysis and scenario modelling and draws three new scenarios that aim to demonstrate the benefits of reuse models. The scenarios calculate how much ocean and landfill plastic waste would be saved if up to 20, 40 or 70 per cent of plastics were reusable.

If reuse achieved a share of 10-20 per cent of global plastic sales, it could shift up to 13 million tonnes of plastic packaging towards the reuse each year, potentially preventing from 45-90 per cent of plastic waste which ends up in oceans each year, according to the report. Boosting the reuse share to 40-70 per cent of global plastic sales, meanwhile, would shift 26-46 million tonnes of plastics towards reusables, which the report estimates is more than double the amount of plastic waste which currently ends up in oceans annually.

"When we talk of the three scenarios, it is worth emphasizing that any of these scenarios would represent extremely valuable progress over the present status quo," said Mayuri Ghosh, head of WEF's Consumers Beyond Disposability initiative, which aims to develop and test reuse solutions. "The plastic waste challenge has grown too large for us to simply recycle our way out of. With no global agreement over an ambition level to target plastic waste, the sooner we can make systemic and meaningful advance towards reuse, the better."

Echoing Ghosh's comments, Beth Bovis, project leader of global social impant and sustainability at Kearney said there was a need to shift away from treating and handling waste, towards never creating it in the first place.

"But any shift towards reusable consumer goods will depend on the choices and actions of the three driving forces of our economy: consumers, the private sector and the public sector," she argued. "Each of these groups has a unique role to play in making reuse a reality. The need for a more reuse-centred economic model is urgent and grows more so with each passing year. It is up to all stakeholders to answer the call."