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Our System Change Scenario identifies 10 system interventions that together deliver an ambitious circular economy transition in Norway

Despite its modest size, Norway is recognised on the world stage as a leading authority, funder, and exemplar fighting against and producing knowledge on plastic pollution in the environment, both domestically and globally. However, what is less well known is that Norway’s own plastic system is fundamentally misaligned with both a zero-waste circular plastic economy and the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change and relies heavily on waste-to-energy incineration and waste exports.

Over 72% of Norwegian household plastic waste and plastic packaging waste is ultimately sent to waste-to-energy incineration while less than 25% is recycled 1. Under business-as-usual , these trends will be exacerbated – creating tangible economic and environmental risks for industry, ecosystems and communities.

We examine six alternative scenarios for the Norwegian plastic system and conclude that, while there are no silver bullets, building a zero-waste circular plastic economy in Norway is technically achievable and economically viable using existing solutions.

Our System Change Scenario identifies 10 system interventions that together deliver an ambitious circular economy transition in Norway and generate ample economic, environmental and social benefits. To achieve this transformation, the 10 system interventions need to be implemented concurrently, ambitiously and starting immediately.

System Interventions

System Intervention #1

Reduce plastic consumption to avoid over 20% of projected plastic waste generation by

This requires consolidated action to ensure (1) that avoidable plastic is systematically eliminated at source and (2) that new delivery models (including reuse systems) are developed and deployed at scale. This system intervention reflects a reduction from 65 kg of plastic consumption per capita per year by 2040 under our Business-As-Usual scenario to 51 kg (compared to 54 kg today), based on the plastic in our project scope, which is household plastic waste and household and industry plastic packaging waste, representing 54% of the total plastic waste generated in Norway.

1  All references to plastic in this report refer to household and industry packaging waste and household plastic waste.

System Intervention #2

Substitute plastic wherever feasible and beneficial to prevent an additional 7% of plastic
generation by 2040.

Our analysis shows that, when accounting for unintended consequences, two materials are suitable replacements for plastics in certain applications: paper and compostable materials.

Up to 15,000 tonnes (mostly of packaging) can be substituted with paper and up to 10,000 tonnes with compostables, when these materials are compatible with existing Norwegian endof-life solutions and do not make current sorting and recycling operations more complex.

System Intervention #3

Implement ambitious design for recycling standards for all plastic products and packaging put on the market.

Design for recycling interventions – such as removing certain polymers, additives and pigments, or shifting from multimaterials to monomaterials – have many benefits and are a prerequisite for any ambitious recycling target. Benefits include, increasing the share of plastic that is recyclable, increasing the value of recycled plastic, reducing losses in the sorting and recycling process, and the overall boosting and scaling up of recycling economics.

System Intervention #4

Create new markets for different types of recycled plastic content to support the full potential of sorting and recycling technologies.

Stimulating market demand is a critical factor to ensure the implementation of a zero-waste circular plastic economy. Demand for recyclates needs to be stronger and more diverse, both in Norway and globally, to encourage the trade of a wider variety of recycled plastic grades.

We estimate that new markets with a total annual turnover of NOK 1.4 billion could be developed in Norway by 2040.

System Intervention #5

Increase sorting capacity 16-fold to over 220,000 tonnes to enable a zero-waste circular plastic

The lack of sorting infrastructure is by far the main bottleneck to achieving any recycling target in Norway. Increasing this capacity would allow Norway to significantly divert plastic from waste-toenergy incineration to recycling and help drive the transition to a circular economy.

System Intervention #6

Scale up mechanical recycling capacity by 10 times to over 100,000 tonnes to ensure
resilience and traceability.

Investing in its domestic infrastructure would mitigate the risk of Norway needing to rely on competitive EU or other recycling markets to achieve its recycling targets

System Intervention #7

Invest in sorting and recycling innovation to burst through technological ceilings and unlock higher recycling rates

Our analysis shows that any ambitious recycling target necessarily relies on technology improvements to push the boundaries of current manufacturing processes.

System Intervention #8

Develop plastic-to-plastic chemical conversion locally to unlock recycling opportunities for materials that cannot be recycled mechanically and provide feedstock for food grade applications.

We estimate that a 36,000-tonne industry could emerge in Norway by 2040 (input raw plastic material), driving local investments, recycling targets, and jobs. Chemical conversion – when optimised for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – has the potential to raise the technical recycling ceiling and increase recycling rates nationally

System Intervention #9

Control the fate of plastic waste exported outside Norway to achieve a near-zero plastic pollution footprint.

The risk of Norwegian plastic waste ending up in landfills in the EU, in unsanitary landfills in the Global South, or being burnt illegally is low but still existent, and can be further mitigated by more careful monitoring of exports under the Basel Convention and other mechanisms.

System Intervention #10

Create an innovation fund to encourage, support and enhance innovation across the plastic value system.

Achieving the vision of a zero-waste circular plastic economy in Norway will require technological advances, new business models, significant spending, and – most crucially – accelerated upstream innovation. This massive innovation scale-up requires a focused and well-funded R&D agenda, including moon-shot ambitions.

Securing the outcomes of the 10 system interventions modelled under the System Change Scenario will not be possible without significant changes in the business models of firms that produce and use plastic and its substitutes; major upgrades in the recycling and waste disposal industries; a transformation in the criteria applied by investors; and considerable shifts in consumer behaviour. These changes are all feasible, but they depend on the Norwegian Government introducing substantial incentives to encourage more sustainable business models and eliminate virgin plastic feedstock’s current cost advantage over recycled materials. Policies designed to deliver a reliable set of incentives and targets can create the conditions needed to implement the integrated System Change Scenario.


The shift to a circular economy is not just a matter of principle or ideology – it is backed by sound economic and business logic. The cost of incinerating over 200,000 tonnes of plastic waste every year and producing new virgin material is significant: over NOK 100 million a year by our estimates. When coupled with the opportunity cost of that material, it becomes too large to ignore. Embarking on the journey to a zero-waste circular plastic economy will unleash major opportunities for companies ahead of the curve, ready to embrace new business models that unlock value from circulating materials rather than from the endless extraction and conversion of fossil fuels. Large new value pools will be created around better design, better materials, better delivery models, improved sorting and recycling technologies, and smart collection and supply chain management systems.

However, while the System Change Scenario will deliver a meaningful shift toward a circular plastic economy in Norway, it is still insufficient to create a plastic system that is truly aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement. By our estimates, even the ambitious System Change Scenario only reduces GHG emissions by 24% by 2040. Additional decarbonisation levers – outside the scope of this project – will also need to be deployed to achieve a net-zero carbon plastic system by mid-century.

In addition to analysing six pathways and quantifying the economic, environmental and social implications of each, as summarised in this report, this project also developed an open-access, dynamic scenario analysis tool that gives decision makers across industry, government, civil society and the financial sector the opportunity to develop their own science-based scenarios based on the data set we collected.

We invite all stakeholders in the Norwegian plastic system to test our…


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