Can we scale adequate waste management with USD 200 per tonne of plastic?
New study from South Pole and ETH Zurich explores cost efficiency of existing plastic waste management projects
25 February, 2020 in Zurich, Switzerland – Plastic waste, especially in oceans, is rising up the scale of global environmental concerns. It is against this backdrop that leading sustainability solutions provider South Pole and ETH Zurich, one of the most prestigious universities in the world, partnered to assess the cost efficiency of and environmental benefits associated with existing projects that are tackling the growing plastic crisis. The analysis focused on projects using approaches such as sanitary landfilling, co-processing in cement kilns recycling, and the introduction of reusable packaging.
The research study shows that the net cost of environmentally-friendly plastic waste management projects were between USD 100 and USD 2,000 per tonne of plastic waste*, with the typical average net cost estimated to being closer to the lower cost range (USD 200). It follows that the cost of adequately managing a plastic packaging item of a few grams is significantly less than one cent per item. If this cost were covered by plastic polluters, it could enable a more rapid scaling-up of waste management projects.Other headline findings include:
- Surveyed plastic management projects not only tackle plastic pollution but also reduce GHG emissions, which is an important co-benefit
- Switching from single-use to reusable packaging was found to be cost-effective: in some cases, switching from single-use to reusable packaging allows for the reduction of costs in the supply chain, thereby creating environmental benefits at negative costs
- The study also identified important social co-benefits arising from the projects, for example by giving waste pickers a fair income
- Financing plastic waste management is especially important in regions and / or for plastic waste types that are not yet collected, such as thin-film packaging or plastic waste in remote island communities
"We want to turn the global plastic crisis into an opportunity to save millions of dollars, safeguard fragile ecosystems, and unleash innovation benefits along the corporate value chain. This is why we are investing in research and initiatives to find the best possible ways to implement smart, market-based solutions that can help effectively address plastic waste," says Bastien Girod, Sustainability Advisor & Regional Director DACH, South Pole. "We have an experienced team of experts at South Pole supporting corporates to assess their footprint, reduce it, and finance certified projects that tackle plastic pollution globally."
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* Prevented from being dumped in uncontrolled open dumps, openly burned or disposed of in the environment.