Recycling Plastics Helps the Oceans, Not the Climate

This article first appeared on the BNEF mobile app and the Bloomberg Terminal.

  • Recycling of commodity packaging plastics will have marginal impact on the carbon emissions from the plastics industry, according to BNEF analysis.
  • Emissions from the production of high-density polyethylene, low-density polyethylene, and polypropylene are expected to double over the next 30 years in a business-as-usual scenario.

An improved recycling scenario, where all plastic waste is captured and recycled by 2050, offers carbon emissions reductions of only 14% compared to the baseline. Strong demand growth, material loss during recycling, and lower-quality recycled output all limit the amount of supply that can be met with recycled material.

Under ‘scenario X,’ which also involves demand reduction, the use of bioplastics and aggressive investment into collection and sorting infrastructure, annual CO2 emissions fall by 42% by 2050. However, even then, total emissions remain well-above net neutral.

Resin manufacturers are hedging their bets by becoming more involved in recycling operations at the same time as increasing their use of bio-based feedstocks. They are waiting for a signal from their customers, and from policymakers, about which option to prioritize. Legislation has so far focused on taking a tough stance on single-use plastics, but leaves the door open to both recycled and renewable options for packaging. With net-zero emissions in mind, they may be conscious that while recycling is crucial in addressing the plastic waste crisis, it is not the silver-bullet major producers like BASF, LyondellBasell and Sabic are hoping for.

BNEF Shorts are research excerpts available only on the BNEF mobile app and the Bloomberg Terminal, highlighting key findings from our reports. If you would like to learn more about our services, please contact us.

About BloombergNEF

BloombergNEF (BNEF) is a strategic research provider covering global commodity markets and the disruptive technologies driving the transition to a low-carbon economy. Our expert coverage assesses pathways for the power, transport, industry, buildings and agriculture sectors to adapt to the energy transition. We help commodity trading, corporate strategy, finance and policy professionals navigate change and generate opportunities.
Sign up for our free monthly newsletter →

Want to learn how we help our clients put it all together? Contact us