The plastics industry began to flourish after World War II with the development of various polymeric materials with different features and properties. Since the creation of the first celluloid that replaced ivory, plastics have conquered our daily lives. They can be found in virtually everything, such as clothing made of polyester fibers, home appliances, products and packaging. In 2019, the global production of plastics exceeded 300 million metric tons.
Plastics have a variety of characteristics and functions. Some can help us keep food fresh, while others can help cars become lighter and more energy efficient. However, most plastics are made from fossil fuels, and a significant amount of greenhouse gas is produced during the production of plastic. In addition, over 40% of plastics are only used once and discarded, thus creating a serious global waste problem.
If We Continue with the Status Quo, There will be More Plastic Than Fish in the World’s Oceans by 2050.
More than 9 million plastic items enter the ocean every year. Whether it’s waste from the fishing industry, single-use plastic package and products, or microplastics, plastic litter has caused significant damage to the marine ecosystems. Given that plastic does not degrade easily, it has also contributed to the problem of rapid accumulation. Statistics show that over 700 marine species are threatened by plastic pollution, and if we do not change our ways, the total weight of plastics in the oceans will outweigh fishes by 2050.
The world only recycles 14% of plastic packaging. The loss in resources from packaging that weren’t recycled is estimated at 80 to 120 billion USD annually.
Plastic wastes that have leaked into the environment not only harms the ecosystem but they also become wasted resources. Plastic packaging, which dominates the industry and market, is the most challenging problem. Over 95% of packaging is used only once before it is discarded, but only 14% of it is recycled. The loss in value of plastic packaging that has not been recycled is equivalent to 80 billion to 120 billion USD annually.
Plastic’s wide range of uses and characteristics have made it an indispensable part of everyday life and business operations. In order to reverse the crisis, we must treat plastic as a resource and use it in an efficient and recirculatory manner so it does not end up in the environment. Aside from reducing unnecessary plastic usage, there are also other opportunities to recirculate plastic through the circular economic business model and product design.
We can use the “Products that Last” or the “Products that Flow” approach to recreate the plastic packaging recycling system.
- Durable packaging: we can utilize the durability of plastics and integrate it with a product-as-a-service business model to develop reusable food packaging and container systems.
- Single-use packaging: whenever single-use packaging is required for hygiene or legal reasons, the risk of environmental contamination has to be considered. In these circumstances, recyclable or compostable materials should be used, and through a well-designed separation and collection system, post-use packagings can be turned into renewable raw materials, or nutrients that can be safely returned to the soil through the compost system.
To tackle the world’s plastic pollution crisis, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the UN Environment Program initiated the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment in Oct 2018. The commitment sets a vision of a circular economy for plastics, along with goals, standards and industrial norms.
More than 400 global entities, such as businesses like Unilever, Coca-cola, Nestle, and Carrefour, governments, financial institutions, universities, research institutes and NGOs, have become signatories and committed to eliminating unnecessary plastic usage or problematic plastic designs. This includes ensuring that all future plastic packaging can be reused, recycled, or decomposed.
As the first signatory in Taiwan, Taiwan Circular Economy Network has translated the Global Commitment into Traditional Mandarin. Any organizations interested in signing and committing to plastics circularity are welcome to contact us directly.
2025 Short-Term Targets
- Packaging that Lasts: Establish a working group focused on the logistics of plastic packaging circularity. Industry practitioners from consumer goods companies, retail, and packaging businesses are invited to interact with stakeholders from governments, financial institutions, and academia so that there could be an exchange of knowledge, materials, and financial support. Stakeholders will jointly promote and advocate for “circular packaging and containers as a service”.
- Packaging that Flows: Establish a bioplastics task force. Practitioners from materials manufacturers, retail, recycling, and compost industries are invited to interact with stakeholders from governments, financial institutions, and academia so that there could be an exchange of knowledge, materials, and financial support. Stakeholders will set up practical compostable plastic recycling systems and facilitate industrial composting pilot projects.
2030 Long-Term Vision
- Packaging that Lasts: Circular packaging is the norm. Over 80% of major retail and food and beverage chain stores will not provide single-use plastic packaging and containers for fresh produce, private labels, and external packaging. It will all be replaced with reusable packaging and containers instead.
- Packaging that Flows: The local bioplastic supply chain will replace the high-carbon, import-dependent fossil fuel industry and fulfill the global demand for low-carbon and circular materials. Taiwan needs to develop a local bioplastic supply chain consisting of businesses in material innovation and development, production, usage, recycling and composting to provide global solutions.