Technological watch

IHS Markit: Plastics industry must spend billions on recycling in decades to come

Companies are pledging to use more recycled plastics. Consumers are saying they want to see more recycled plastics being used.

But there's sometimes a difference between ambition and reality.

Traditional mechanical recycling is expected to skyrocket between now and 2050, but that technology will still not be enough to meet expected demand for recycled plastic.

"Chemical recycling," data and services firm IHS Market said, "will be needed to close the gap."

Mechanical recycling is expected to grow from today's 20 million metric tons per year to 112 to 200 million metric tons by 2050, depending on different potential scenarios IHS Markit sees.

IHS, which provides information, analysis and services to industries and markets, has a new Circular Plastics Service to help transition from a linear to a circular economy.

"Ambitious goals for attaining a circular plastics economy could be achieved by shifting a portion of the future investment required to meet the growing demand for plastics towards advanced recycling methods," IHS reports.

IHS estimates $1.5 trillion spending is needed in global plastics to meet growing consumer demand for plastics between now and 2050. And current market conditions suggest modest progress toward a circular plastics economy primarily through a reliance on mechanical recycling.

But IHS believes more than $300 billion of that total $1.5 trillion can be redirected to recycling — both mechanical and chemical — over the next three decades to help "the goals of an aggressive circular economy case."

A couple of competing forces are at work here. Global demand for plastics only will continue to grow as emerging economies evolve and global living standards improve. While developed economies search for answers to handle single-use plastics beyond disposal, expanding economies will seek to use more and more of that material.

"Our analysis indicates that the situation is likely to become urgent," said Anthony Palmer, vice president of IHS Markit, in a statement. "At the heart of the matter is that the widespread benefits associated with the use of plastics contrast sharply with the way the world manages its end-of-life disposal — the so-called 'Plastics Dilemma'."

Publication date: 20/10/2021

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Last update: 2022-01-31