− Governments and companies have signed pledges and bans to limit plastic waste
− Recycled packaging could eventually supplant the production of virgin plastic
− Innovative waste management systems help turn pollution into added value
− Recent studies offer sustainable alternatives to help break down existing waste
As a growing number of countries ban single-use plastics, waste remains a significant environmental issue – although a variety of initiatives promise to put emerging markets at the center of the global fight against plastic waste.
The Covid-19 pandemic has seen a decline in the use of plastic; however, this has led to an increase in waste from personal protective equipment (PPE) and single-use plastics. Moreover, much of this waste is disposed of unsustainably, ending up either incinerated or stored in landfills, the third largest source of methane emissions in the world.
According to OECD figures, only around 9% of the global volume of plastics was recycled in 2019, and 22% was mismanaged.
A disproportionate share of mismanaged plastic waste (MPW) ends up in emerging markets due to both inadequate waste management infrastructure and an influx of waste imports from mature economies. India and China are estimated to each account for 20% of global MPW volume.
Tackling waste at source
Plastics account for approximately 3.4% of greenhouse gas emissions over their life cycle, 90% of which is produced during manufacturing. Finding ways to decarbonize the production of plastics could significantly reduce their environmental impact.
According to a May 2022 report by research firm BloombergNEF, an additional investment of $759 billion could net petrochemical production to zero by 2050. This, in turn, would reduce the 2% of global emissions from production. high-value chemicals. , a key component in the manufacture of plastics and other goods.
Demand for recycled materials has also increased in recent years, with consultancy McKinsey reporting that high-quality recycled plastics have gained 60% over virgin plastics over the past decade.
Major corporate plastic producers such as Coca-Cola, Walmart and PepsiCo are part of an Ellen MacArthur Foundation initiative to achieve 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025. Coca-Cola says that their figure is currently at 90%, while the foundation’s Global Commitment 2022 report had Coca-Cola’s figure just under 100%.
In addition to corporate action, governments have begun to focus on international efforts to limit plastic production and pollution. At the March 2022 meeting of the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, 175 countries pledged to negotiate a legally binding agreement limiting the proliferation of plastics and emphasizing recycling, sustainable packaging and limiting the production of virgin plastics from 2024.
At the national level, Kenya pioneered a strict ban on plastic bags in 2018, followed by a total ban on single-use plastics in protected areas implemented in 2020. A significant reduction in the use has been observed as a result of the ban, with tripling ownership of the bags, although there is still work to be done in managing the existing waste.
Sustainable waste management
Given the volume of MPW present in many parts of the world, expanding recycling and waste management infrastructure in emerging markets presents a significant opportunity for added value.
The “Africa Waste Management Outlook 2022” published by the United Nations Environment Program estimated that $8 billion of municipal solid waste is generated annually in African cities, with $7.6 billion of their lost value due to improper disposal, primarily in open landfills.
The circular economy generates value from items that would otherwise end up in landfill. The Manila-based start-up Humble Sustainability processes excess inventory from e-commerce and retail businesses that would normally end up being disposed of and resells it through its storefront, or passes the inventory to its B2B Network partners.
Humble recently raised $750,000 in an oversubscribed funding round led by Seedstars International Ventures, and the startup plans to use the funds to hire staff and expand its network of partners.
Soso Care’s business model in Nigeria aims to tackle both waste management and access to healthcare in a country where 23% of the population has health insurance. The health tech company accepts recyclable waste such as scrap metal, plastic or car batteries in exchange for health coverage.
Several emerging economies seek to reduce the influx of waste from other countries, as they often lack the infrastructure to process it safely or sustainably.
Like Vietnam and Malaysia, Thailand has announced its intention to ban imports of plastic waste by 2025.
Southeast Asian countries have become a top destination for waste exports from mature economies after China, which previously received around 50% of the world’s plastic waste, banned such imports as part of its National Initiative. Sword in 2017.
Other efforts focus on the sustainable collection of mismanaged waste. In Panama, a waterwheel installed by the environmental group Marea Verde helps collect waste from the Juan Díaz River, which runs through Panama City. The wheel, which aims to collect waste before it reaches the sea, is powered by a mix of water and solar power.
Such efforts could prove essential in tackling marine plastic pollution in emerging marketswith a July 2020 study from Pew Charitable Trusts and SYSTEMIQ indicating that the volume of plastic in the oceans could quadruple by 2040.
Instead of replacing single-use items with a more sustainable material, finding new ways to break down waste presents another waste management solution.
A 2021 study found that microbes evolve to digest plastics, and research into the enzymes they use could help scientists discover more sustainable ways to deal with waste.
In 2022, the French Carbios entered the industrial phase for its enzymatic recycling technology; its eventual recycling capacity should exceed 50,000 tonnes of plastic waste per year.
Another study found that superworms, mealworm larvae, could survive on a polystyrene diet, giving companies the option of using insects to help break down waste.
Solid waste is also considered an alternative source of fuel. A cement plant in South Korea fuels its operations in part by using synthetic resin waste from discarded plastics, helping it reduce coal consumption by 30% and cut overall emissions by 3.3% since 2018.