Improving Markets for Recycled Plastics: Trends, Prospects and Policy Responses

Report by the OECD about Strategies for improving markets for recycled plastics in global level.


Plastics have become one of the most prolific materials on the planet: in 2015 we produced about 380 million tonnes of plastics globally, up from 2 million tonnes in the 1950s. Yet today only 15% of this plastic waste is collected and recycled into secondary plastics globally each year. This report looks at why this is the case and what we can do about it, as the pervasiveness of plastics is becoming an urgent public health and planetary problem. Not only is the diffusion of waste plastics into the wider environment creating hugely negative impacts, but plastics production emits approximately 400 million tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions annually as a result of the energy used in their production, transport, and final waste treatment. Improved plastics collection and recycling represents a promising solution to these concerns.

Key Messages
  •  Plastics are widely used materials that deliver a range of important benefits
    to society. Their global production and use are expected to increase fourfold
    to 2050.
  • Plastics production, use and disposal are also responsible for significant
    greenhouse gas emissions and when poorly managed lead to pollution in
    the natural environment, particularly in drinking water and the oceans. The
    ecosystem damages and risks to human health resulting from marine litter
    are only beginning to emerge, but are of considerable concern given the
    longevity of plastics.
  • Transitioning to a more circular economy – one characterised by longer
    lived plastics products with less toxic content and higher plastics collection
    and recycling rates – could reduce the diffusion of plastics pollution in the
    environment. One of the obstacles to this transition is poorly functioning
    markets for recycled plastics: market volumes and liquidity are limited, and
    prices are highly volatile. Global plastics recycling rates are estimated to be
    less than 20% (with significant variation across countries), and the market
    share of recycled plastics is currently less than 10%.
  • Potential suppliers of recycled plastics do not invest sufficiently in sorting
    and recycling capacity because the profitability of these operations is
    limited. Potential buyers (i.e. manufacturing firms) have limited incentives to
    use recycled plastics as inputs because of uncertainty about their availability
    and quality. Market outcomes could improve significantly if these issues
    were addressed.
  • Policy interventions need to address bottlenecks on the demand and
    supply side of recycled plastics markets. On the demand side, measures
    should focus on helping establish a separate demand for recycled plastics
    and levelling the playing field between virgin and recycled plastics. On the
    supply side, measures are needed to help increase the supply of recovered
    plastics and the quality of the resulting feedstock. This should include efforts
    to improve the sustainability of plastic materials and products at the design

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