Reusing 10% of plastic could reduce ocean pollution by 50%, study finds

By Lucy Jones  July 23rd, 2021

The new report from the World Economic Forum makes the case for a consumption model based on reuse.

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Reusing just 10 per cent of plastic products could reduce annual ocean plastic pollution rates by almost half according to a new study from the World Economic Forum and Kearney. Titled 'The Future of Reusable Consumption Models', the report quantifies the benefits of shifting from a single-use culture to one that embraces reuse.

According to the report, single-use items currently account for 50 per cent of global plastic production while only 14 per cent of plastics are recovered through recycling. The study's authors recommend an urgent shift to a reuse model of consumption where waste and pollution are eliminated during the design phase of products.

"We need to shift from merely 'treating' or 'handling' waste to simply never creating it in the first place," Beth Bovis, Project Leader, Partner and Leader of Global Social Impact & Sustainability at Kearney said in a statement.

"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. 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."

The report used scenario modelling to estimate the impact of different rates of reuse on annual plastic ocean waste. The researchers generated a framework for the scenario modelling using a combination of data analysis, NGO and government proposals and in-depth interviews with senior leaders from the private and public sector.

The three scenarios they put forward were:

"Scenario one: Between 10 and 20% of plastic packaging could be reusable by 2030. This equates to 7-13 million tonnes of plastic packaging, representing 45-90% of annual plastic ocean waste.

Scenario two: Reusables make up between 20% and 40% of packaging, equivalent to 90–185% of annual plastic ocean waste or 25–50% of plastic landfill waste.

Scenario three: If between 40-70% of all packaging is reusable, it would equal anywhere from 185% to 320% of annual plastic ocean waste or 50–85% of plastic landfill waste."

Head here to read more about how these scenarios might be achieved, the research methodology and the challenges that lie ahead.

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Lucy Jones

Lucy started her career working as a writer and editor in print and digital publishing. She went on to create content for Australia's leading sustainable fashion platform while completing her Master of Cultural Studies. Lucy spends her downtime at the beach, crocheting and hanging out with her cat Larry. She believes words can change the world and is stoked to help Planet Ark spread the message of positive environmental change.

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