Post #58: Halfway up the Eiffel Tower

Right in the centre of Paris with impressive views in all directions, the Eiffel Tower is one of the world’s most recognisable and iconic buildings. Why would you travel halfway up though, when the views are clearly better from the top? Think of it like this: in the course of a day, over 1.3bn plastic bottles are discarded. Stacked together, this is equivalent to 162m, or roughly half the height of the Eiffel Tower. Scale this up, and 481bn plastic bottles are now wasted annually (per Reuters).

We live in an age with the highest level of consumption the planet has ever seen. Consider the 4tr plastic bottles sold in the past decade (per Reuters) and you get a 2400m-high pile of plastic. Plastic bottles, of course, are just the tip of the iceberg when you take into account the impact of other examples such a bags, food packaging, coffee cup lids and straws. Continuing current consumption practices means that by 2050, there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean (based on World Bank projections). Although we have written on this topic before, recently reading the above statistics bring the problem clearly to light.

While the threat (to the environment) is evident, there is also a clear emerging opportunity. At present, we recycle globally 70-90% of steel and 50-60% of paper, yet less than 15% of plastic. However, some 20% of plastic packaging could be profitably re-used and 50% could be profitably recycled if designed appropriately for after-use (all data per the Ellen McArthur Foundation).

The good news is that things are changing, both at country and a company-specific level. Both Canada and the EU have said that they will ban single-use plastics by 2021, while around 60 other nations are currently enacting similar policies. Many businesses have made similar commitments and it was notable that Unilever, for example, announced recently that it would make all its packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. Bioplastics (a cover-all term for the next-generation of sustainable materials) are forecast to see significant growth, with the market expanding at a 15%+ CAGR to reach ~$20bn by 2026 (per Bloomberg). The race to sustainability has begun in earnest, but there is still a long way to go.  


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