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New Plastics Economy

Plastic litter on a beach up close

Completed project

Project start: March 2016  |  Project end: September 2017
Funder: People's Postcode Lottery
Principal Investigator: Professor Melanie Austen
Other participants from PML: Christine Pascoe, Dr James Clark, Dr Tara Hooper, Professor Pennie Lindeque

Plastics and plastic packaging are fundamental to industry and everyday life. They deliver many benefits, yet have a number of significant drawbacks. Most plastic packaging is used only once; 95% of the value of plastic packaging material, worth $80-120 billion annually, is lost to the economy. Plastic packaging also generates costs to society and to the environment, valued conservatively by UNEP at $40 billion. Given the projected growth in consumption, in a business-as-usual scenario, by 2050 the ocean could contain more plastics than fish (by weight), and the entire plastics industry could consume 20% of total oil production, and 15% of the annual carbon budget.

The New Plastics Economy initiative is an ambitious three-year mobilisation effort to build momentum towards a plastics system that works. Applying the principles of the circular economy, the initiative brings together key stakeholders to re-think and re-design the future of plastics, starting with packaging. 

The initiative, which is led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in collaboration with a broad group of leading companies, cities, philanthropists, policymakers, academics, students, NGOs, and citizens, focuses on five interlinked and mutually reinforcing building blocks which can be found on the main project website here.

Funded by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, PML leads an 18 month project to provide an initial evidence base – closing critical knowledge gaps by building an economic and scientific evidence base from which to draw insights.

PML is undertaking research to understand and assess the impact of plastics in the marine environment on the UK society and economy.  PML will also identify a prioritized list of knowledge gaps to create an action plan and partnerships that would lead to a step change in understanding social and economic impacts of plastics in the marine environment in the UK and globally.