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More plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050

DAVOS, Switzerland: January 20, 2016. A new report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) claims that without applying circular economy principles, by 2050 the world’s oceans will contain more plastics than fish by weight, and the plastics industry will consume 20 percent of global oil production and 15 percent of the annual carbon budget.

Circular economy plasticAssessing global plastic packaging flows comprehensively for the first time, the report finds that most of it is used only once and 95 percent of the material’s value, worth US$80-120 billion annually, is lost to the economy. Additionally, plastic packaging generates negative externalities, valued conservatively by UNEP at US $40 billion.

With analytical support from McKinsey, the three-year study provides a vision of a global economy in which plastics never become waste, and envisages a new approach based on creating effective after-use pathways for plastics; drastically reducing leakage of plastics into natural systems, in particular oceans; and decoupling plastics from fossil feedstocks.

To do this, the WEF proposes an independent coordinator to establish common standards and foster innovation opportunities, while the EMF says it will provide a platform for cross-value-chain dialogue and drive a shift to a new plastics economy.

“Linear models of production and consumption are increasingly challenged by the context within which they operate - and this is particularly true for high volume, low value materials such as plastic packaging,” said EMF founder Ellen MacArthur. “By demonstrating how circular economy principles can be applied to global plastic flows, this report provides a model for achieving the systemic shift our economy needs to make in order to work in the long term.”

Dominic Waughray, member of the WEF executive committee and head of its public-private partnership added: “The report demonstrates the importance of triggering a revolution in the plastics industrial ecosystem and is a first step to showing how to transform the way plastics move through our economy.”

The report producers say achieving such systemic change will require major collaboration by all industry stakeholders including consumer goods companies, plastic packaging manufacturers, recyclers, policymakers and NGOs.

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