8 solutions for plastics in a circular economy

If we continue at the current pace, our plastics will not be completely circular by the year 2050, and the disadvantages of plastics will outweigh the benefits. We need to accelerate much faster, and basic choices need to be made quickly. The plastic ecosystem is complex and needs a turnaround to meet CO2 and other sustainability requirements.

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How do we achieve a circular economy for plastics?

We envisage solutions that will significantly accelerate the transition. These are integrated solutions that, in addition to technological innovations, must generate socio-economic and transitional changes. This systematic approach focuses on solutions from four key angles: value web & networking, technology & systems, consumer & society and governance & transition. Based on these angles, we have developed eight solutions that are necessary to realize a situation in 2050 where plastics are completely circular.

Our 8 solutions for a world full of circular plastic:

Figure – TNO’s eight significant solutions in the context of nwa circular economy

  • Web and Network Value: Solution w1. Use circular design
  • Web and Network Value: Solution w2. Make genuine pricing mandatory
  • Web and Network Value: Solution w3. Expand producer responsibility
  • Technology & system: solution t1. Develop innovations for high-quality recycled materials
  • Technology & system: solution t2. Set simple and standardized requirements for plastics and additives
  • Consumer & society: solution c1. Hear what citizens and consumers have to say
  • Consumer & society: c2. Be transparent about the cost to the consumer
  • Control and transition: g1. Ensure a clear, stable playing field in the long term

Integrated solutions for the plastic ecosystem

First, the plastic ecosystem needs to change, from a linear value chain to a range of value networks: from disposable material (“make-take-dispose”) to a material suitable for reuse and recycling. In this connection, the principles of Lansink (W1) must be fully adopted. For all this, it is necessary that waste treatment plants, recycling companies, chemical transformers, plastic producers, end users and fire owners work together. To make this possible, there must be long-term guarantees for a clear and stable playing field (G1).

Technologies for recycling plastic

Secondly, the innovations for new recycling technologies (recycled plastic starts with a good design | TNO) must be implemented quickly. This involves sorting, washing, mechanical or physical recycling (including dissolution), but also chemical recycling (eg pyrolysis). All this is intended to provide higher quality recycled material (T1). The standardization of plastics and additives would greatly simplify the value cycle (T2) of plastics, so that a closed circuit can occur more quickly.

Stimulating circular plastic

Thirdly, the accelerated transition to these circular value networks should be accompanied by the passing on of the real costs (true pricing) of plastic products (W2). At present, the hidden costs due to environmental impact and toxicity are still paid for through, among other things, waste taxes, health insurance premiums and reduced health. Passing on the actual costs promotes the use of sustainable plastics and leads to an improvement in the quality of life and a reduction in hidden costs so that the total costs remain roughly the same. To achieve this, transparency about consumer costs is absolutely necessary (C2).

The voice of citizens and consumers

Finally, when it comes to sustainable solutions, producer responsibility (W3) and the will of consumers should be stimulated through smart legislation and incentives (eg taxation).[1]reduction for sustainable initiatives). For this complex transition (Increasing sustainability through the plastic chain approach | TNO), it is necessary for citizens to be involved in the process and for their voice to be heard (C1).

All stakeholders – industry, government and consumers – play an indispensable role in the rapid start and rapid implementation of these eight key solutions.

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