Recycling of plastic waste may become an important driving force for the profitability of chemical suppliers. Existing players now need to take the right action to seize the opportunity.

If the demand for plastics develops according to the current trajectory, the global amount of plastic waste will increase from 260 million tons per year in 2016 to 460 million tons per year by 2030, which will raise the already serious environmental problems to a new level. In the face of strong public protest against global plastic pollution, the chemical supplier industry has also begun to mobilize on this issue. Our recent article, “no time to waste,” shows how industry leaders have gone beyond the “discard as you go” approach, under which the plastics industry has grown up, and embraced the extended definition of product management, including plastic waste disposal. As we emphasized in that article, this is not only required by the society, but also becoming a condition for the industry to retain its business license. It may also represent an important and profitable new business opportunity.

The final insight is based on our comprehensive assessment of the sources of future global waste flows, how to recycle them, and what kind of economic returns this activity can provide – these studies fill a major gap in the public debate. In this paper, we outline a vision of the plastics industry that 50% of the world’s plastics will be reused or recycled by 2030 – four times the current number – and that vision has the potential to create substantial value. According to this idea, the recycling and recycling of plastics can bring up to US $60 billion profit growth for the petrochemical and plastics industries, accounting for nearly two-thirds of the possible profit growth in the same period. We also discussed the level of social support needed to achieve this result, including support from major plastic users and consumers such as regulators, consumer packaging product companies, etc.

Petrochemical and plastic companies expand the chemical industry, because plastic production accounts for more than one-third of the industry’s threats and opportunities activities provide an array of strategic issues that we outline and they need to assess and select.

Chemical suppliers establish a virtuous cycle of plastic recycling worldwide

Our research shows that only 12% of plastic waste is recycled or recycled. Although plastics have the potential of reuse and recycling, the vast majority of waste plastics are burned, landfilled or dumped, which means that these materials as a resource will disappear forever. Plastic production requires a lot of capital investment and a lot of carbon footprint. Recycling plastics not only reduces these investment needs, but also helps to reduce the total carbon emissions of industry.

Images of plastic waste around the world have aroused strong opposition from consumers, which has been translated into regulatory measures to ban or restrict the use of plastic in many regions, especially in the European Union. Marine plastic pollution has always been a powerful public opinion mobilization force, and our colleagues have proposed solutions to this problem. However, when considering the possibility of recycling plastic waste, marine plastic pollution is best understood as the tip of the obvious iceberg.

The chemical industry, as well as the major consumer industry, the waste industry, and even the wider society, lack a clear prospect that large quantities of discarded plastics can be recycled and reused.

There is also a lack of a comprehensive view of where most of the waste will come from and which recycling and recycling technologies offer the greatest potential.

We address this gap through a comprehensive global model of plastic waste generation, different methods of plastic recycling and related recycling technologies, as well as their economic benefits. Our reference case assumes that the oil price is $75 per barrel. We also explored the situation of low and high prices, and the corresponding smaller and larger potential profit pools, as well as different social recycling methods, because these factors have a significant impact on the feasibility of plastic recycling.

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