Researchers tackle single-use plastic pollution

Making reuse a reality by University of Portsmouth researchers outlines a plan to transform product packaging and reduce plastic production

bundle of plastic bottles

A report by University of Portsmouth researchers consolidates 320 articles and 55 new interviews to assess how countries can move away from single-use plastic packaging.

Making reuse a reality outlines steps for the widespread adoption of large-scale reuse systems.

The authors highlighted that at present, there is minimal recirculation of plastic within the economy.

“Overall, single-use throwaway plastic packaging is not sustainable due to its negative impact on the environment,” they shared.

Around 85% of plastic produced ends up being burned, disposed of in landfills or discarded in unregulated dumping sites.

85% of plastic

ends up in landfill, dumped or incinerated

The authors added that around 43% of plastic placed within the European market remains unaccounted for at the end of its lifecycle, meaning an estimated 22 million tonnes of plastic is missing each year.

Reusable packaging has been shown to eliminate around 80% of the climate impact of single-use packaging.

While recycling is available in most countries, the study authors noted that only 6-9% of plastic waste is currently recycled. While glass can be recycled indefinitely, most plastics can only be recycled twice.

The study imagines a world where all packaging is able to be tracked through electronic chips or tags.

The packaging would be dropped in smart bins, before being cleaned at centralised hubs and delivered back to factories and retailers.

The authors highlighted that delivery firms can play an important role in the reuse economy by collecting used packaging while making deliveries.

Professor Steve Fletcher, director of the Global Plastics Policy Centre at the University of Portsmouth, highlighted that the study provides an “evidence-based global assessment” of how to swap single-use packaging for reuse systems.

“It shows that there is no one-size-fits-all packaging material or system for reuse, but we know that it has to fit seamlessly into people’s lives and that has huge untapped potential to end plastic pollution. What we need now is a clear vision for reuse and the right support to mainstream it,” he said.