The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) third report has said that extended producer responsibility (EPR) will need to be strengthened to improve plastic recycling.
In the Industrial section of the extensive report, it noted that there was economic value in recycling materials such as steel, paper and aluminium. But when it came to plastics, there would need to be stronger EPR policy across the planet to reduce use of virgin plastics.
The report said: “While the economic value of some discarded materials such as steel, paper and aluminium is generally high enough to justify the cost and effort of recycling, at current rates 85%, above 60% and 43% respectively, others like plastic or concrete have a much lower re-circularity value.
“Most plastic waste ends up in landfills or dumped in the environment, with 9% recycled and 12% incinerated globally.
“Collected waste plastics from OECD countries were largely exported to China until a ban in 2018 required OECD countries to review their practices. EPR schemes may thus need to be strengthened to actually achieve a reduced use of virgin, greenhouse gas intensive materials.”
On the circular economy, the report noted that many countries have committed to implementing Reduce, Reuse and Recycle “but, in practice, the lower forms of retention of materials, such as recycling and recover (energy) often dominate”.
It added: “The lack of policies for higher retention of material use such as Reduce, Reuse, repair, remanufacture, is due to institutional failures, lack of coordination and lack of strong advocates.”
IPCC therefore advocated that policy makers need to “leverage the potential socio-economic opportunities of transitioning to circular economies which show positive GDP growth and job creation by shifting to more labour-intensive recycling plants and repair services than resource extraction activities”.
The report also noted that materials efficiency has previously been under-represented in climate modelling. But designing products that are lighter, optimising to maintain the end-use service while minimising material use, designing for circular principles, and manufacturing with more efficient material and energy use, could all have a large impact.
Additionally, material efficiency would also benefit climate change mitigation through creating products with longer life, improving the recovery of the material at the end of its life, and improved remanufacturing, reuse and recycling processes.
The IPCC report chapter in question can be viewed here.
Overall, the report said that to limit global warming to 1.5°C requires greenhouse gas emissions to peak before 2025 at the latest. By 2030, they would need to be reduced by 43% and net zero by the early 2050s.