New Plastics Economy

The new study "The New Plastics Economy: Catalysing Action" by the World Economic Forum and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, with analytical support from SYSTEMIQ, presents an action plan on how concerted action by the industry could drive a transformation of the plastic packaging sector and deliver social, economic and environmental benefits worldwide. The report lays out targeted actions to move the sector from a single-use “Take-Make-Dispose” system to a circular plastics economy, with an increase from 14% to 70% re-use and recycling rates.

The report provides a clear transition strategy for the global plastics industry to design better packaging, increase recycling rates, and introduce new models for making better use of packaging. It finds that 20% of plastic packaging could be profitably re-used, for example by replacing single-use plastic bags with re-usable alternatives, or by designing innovative packaging models based on product refills. A further 50% of plastic packaging could be profitably recycled if improvements are made to packaging design and systems for managing it after use. Without fundamental redesign and innovation, the remaining 30% of plastic packaging (by weight) will never be recycled and will continue to destine the equivalent of 10 billion garbage bags per year to landfill or incineration.


The action plan was produced as part of the New Plastics Economy initiative, which was launched in May 2016 as a direct result of Project MainStream, a multi-industry, CEO-led collaboration led by the World Economic Forum and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The New Plastics Economy initiative brings together more than 40 leading organisations representing the entire global plastics industry, from chemical manufacturers to consumer goods producers, retailers, city authorities and recyclers, to work together towards a more effective global system. Core Partners in the New Plastics Economy initiative include Amcor, The Coca-Cola Company, Danone, MARS, Novamont, Unilever, and Veolia.

The focus of the New Plastics Economy over the next year will be on bringing about wide scale innovation. The initiative will launch two global innovation challenges to kick-start the redesign of materials and packaging formats, and begin building a set of global common standards (a ‘Global Plastics Protocol’) for packaging design, concentrating initially on the most impactful changes. It will also improve recycling systems by delivering collaborative projects between participant companies and cities.

Acting on the findings of the report published just a year ago here in Davos, the New Plastics Economy initiative has attracted widespread support and provides a clear plan for redesigning the global plastics system. We now see strong initial momentum and alignment around the direction to take, paving the way for concerted action.
— Dame Ellen MacArthur, Founder, Ellen MacArthur Foundation
This could drive systemic change. The plan puts innovation at the heart of a strategy that could shift the entire system while unlocking a billion dollar business opportunity. Alignment along value chains and between the public and private sector is key to this.
— Dominic Waughray, Head of Public-Private Partnership, Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum
Minor changes in material, format and treatment can – in conjunction – make the economics of recycling viable and take us into a positive spiral of higher yields, lower costs and better design. The result will be plastic that remains a valuable material before and after use. Our granular segment-by-segment analysis of the plastic packaging market, numerous interactions with businesses across the plastics value chain and discussions with over 75 experts, fuels our optimism that recycling is a significant part of the solution if we start thinking about plastic packaging within a global system.
— Prof. Dr. Martin R. Stuchtey, Co-Founder, SYSTEMIQ