Pathways to sustainable plastics – A discussion brief
Lars J Nilsson
Summary, in English
The growing attention to the negative side-effects of our use of plastics has led to numerous calls for changing the current plastics system. However, there is lack of coherent and systematic assessments of how and in what direction the plastics system should change to become more sustainable. This discussion brief explores five potential pathways: Bio-based, Biodegradable, Recycled, Fewer types and Reduced use. Each pathway is assessed in terms of the promise it makes, what it entails and how it has been criticized. With a growing number of voices on the need for sustainable plastics, this discussion brief provides an overview of the opportunities and challenges of the pathways that can potentially take us there. The diversity and complexity of the system, as well as the lack of clear direction for what is a more sustainable plastics system, make it difficult to govern. Furthermore, there is no history of building an institutional capacity and expertise in, for example, government and research around policy and governance for plastics. Plastics is a critical material for sustainability in many areas (e.g. food, water and energy), but policies are needed to reduce the use of fossil feedstock, increase circularity and resource efficiency, and prevent leakage to the environment.