Researchers from the Oxford Martin Program on the Future of Plastics, University of Oxford, have outlined ambitious targets to help deliver a sustainable and net zero plastic economy. In a paper published in Nature, the authors argue for a rethinking of the technical, economic, and policy paradigms that have entrenched the status-quo, one of rising carbon emissions and uncontrolled pollution.

Currently the global plastics system results in over 1 gigatonne per annum (Gt/annum) of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions which is the same as the total combined emissions of Europe’s three largest economies (UK, Germany and France). The authors analyze the current and future global plastics system, proposing technical, legal, and economic interventions from now until 2050 to allow it to transition to net zero emissions and to reduce other negative environmental impacts. The study includes a future scenario centered on four targets:

  1. Reducing future plastics demand by one half, substituting and eliminating over-use of plastic materials and products.
  2. Changing the way plastics are manufactured to replace fossil fuels as the hydrocarbon source to use only renewably raw materials, including waste biomass and carbon dioxide.
  3. For plastics which are recoverable, maximizing recycling very significantly, targeting 95% recycling of those materials which are retrievable from wastes.
  4. Integrating plastic manufacturing and recycling with renewable power and minimizing all other negative environmental impacts, including of additives.


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