Mapping the plastics system and its sustainability challenges

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Plastics are versatile materials with environmental, technical, economical and societal benefits, however plastics also contribute negatively to the environment and climate. Put in numbers around 4% of the fossil oil and gas is used as feedstock for plastics while another 4% is used for providing energy for the manufacturing of plastics. Many initiatives on reducing the negative effects of plastics are focusing on waste management, product design and consumer behaviour, however the fact that plastics originate from crude oil is sometimes neglected.
The plastics system faces major sustainability challenges. The utilization of fossil feedstock and energy in the production causes emissions of carbon dioxide. Insufficient waste management and recycling result in littering and resource inefficiency. Plastics are likely to continue to be an important material in a fossil free future, however for that a sustainability transition needs to take place. The question is how?
The report describes the current value chains including production, utilization and waste management of plastics as well as the sustainability challenges related to them. This extended summary highlights the most important sustainability challenges and gives some concrete examples of the difficulties and contradictions in achieving a more sustainable plastics system. The report is part of the Mistra funded research programme STEPS – Sustainable Plastics and Transition Pathways. The vision of the programme is to “…facilitate and accelerate transition of the plastic sector to a future society with sustainable production, use and recycling in a circular plastics economy.” Based on that vision, the following questions are asked: What are sustainable plastics? What is the role of plastics in a sustainable society? And what are the key challenges?
Original languageEnglish
PublisherLund University. Department of Environmental and Energy Systems Studies
Number of pages35
ISBN (Electronic)978-91-86961-34-3
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Energy Systems


  • Plastics
  • Renewable
  • Sustainability


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