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Circular economy of plastics: analysis of flows and stocks of plastic in Europe

Hsu, Wan‐Ting; Domenech, Teresa; McDowall, Will

FG Transdisziplinäre Nachhaltigkeitsforschung in der Elektronik

Plastic production is continuously growing and accumulated in the socioeconomic system. Plastic in the stock has the potential to become plastic waste in the future, contributing to waste generation or secondary plastics supply. This research applied material flow analysis(MFA) which provides one-year snapshot of the system to then build a dynamic MFA model to estimate the future plastic waste change from 1960 to 2040. The results show that around 66.27±15.4 million tonnes(MT) plastic polymers production in the EU, and about 69.99±11.8 MT consumed across packaging(31%), construction(18%), transport(13%), electrical and electronic products(9%), textiles(6%) and other(23%) applications in 2014. The recycling rate was around 38% but only 9% of this was used as secondary plastics to produce new products. According to the stock modelling, total inflows and outflows are expected to increase in the future, which accounts for 178MT inflows and 131MT outflows in 2040. The amounts of in-use stock in this scenario continue increase and reach to 1282MT in 2040. Construction dominates the stock-in-use for a long time due to its long life span. These results highlight the large quantities of plastics have accumulated in the societal stock and leakage to natural systems. This study provides decision-makers an evidence-based model to plan plastic circular economy strategies. Future research is suggested to combine these results of the stock model into different scenarios which can help in gaining insights about possible future outcomes of plastic circular economy strategies in the EU.