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Plastics: pollution, policy and investment potential

Plastics: pollution, policy and investment potential
Thomas Höhne-Sparborth, PhD - Head of Sustainability Research

Thomas Höhne-Sparborth, PhD

Head of Sustainability Research
Michael Urban, PhD - Chief Sustainability Strategist

Michael Urban, PhD

Chief Sustainability Strategist

Need to know

  • We rely on plastic for everyday needs, but pollution and low recycling rates are harming ecosystems.
  • Growing public awareness underpins government policies to reduce plastic use. But innovation in reduction and recycling has not been significantly incentivised.
  • Efforts to reduce plastic waste, advance the circular bioeconomy and drive the net-zero transition are interconnected – providing opportunities for sustainable investors. 


Practicalities and pitfalls

Over the last 10 years, the world has produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century.1

Yes, plastic is versatile and useful, but its abundance in single-use products from grocery bags to water bottles and straws has been a global problem for decades. With only 9% of plastic being recycled and millions of tonnes ending up in the ocean1 or in landfills, we risk irreversible damage to ecosystems.

There is also a strong link between plastics and climate change that cannot be ignored. The industry is the fifth-highest emitting industrial sector, behind iron and steel, cement, and the wider chemical industries.2


Part of a sustainable economy?

But awareness of the problem is fuelling positive change. Globally, 28 government policies aiming to reduce plastic pollution have been set since 2000. They have focused on banning plastics rather than rewarding innovative approaches to reduction and recycling, indicating an unexplored opportunity for policymakers and businesses.

We believe the global economy is transitioning to a Circular, Lean, Inclusive and Clean – or CLIC® – model, driven by  policy and regulation, consumer demand, technological innovation and market forces. ‘Zero waste’ is one of eight key sustainability challenges in this shift and relates directly to the problems of our current plastics use – and the potential to greatly reduce its impact.


Plastic and sustainable investment 

How we use plastic now will shape the rest of our lives and the generations to come. In this report, we take a forward-looking view of plastic policy, pollution and investment potential:

  • Policy direction worldwide
  • Impacts on the bioeconomy and the climate
  • Commercial opportunities to increase circularity: upstream, in manufacturing; and downstream, in the consumer, recycling and waste-management sectors

We believe that a more sustainable future for plastics has the potential to create rich investment opportunities. To capture them, it is crucial to understand the changes taking place and what might follow.

To read more, please download our report using the button provided.



[1] Plastic Pollution Facts | PlasticOceans.org/the-facts

[2] ‘Green steel’: the race to clean up one of the world’s dirtiest industries | Financial Times


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