McKinsey report suggests plastic application shifts

Consultancy says retailers and brand owners can help safeguard the environment with reuse and material substitution.

Global consultancy McKinsey & Co., in a new 132-page report, has identified and recommended strategies corporations can adopt to decrease their dependence on plastic in applications where its emissions produced outweigh its benefits.

The report, “Nature in the balance: What companies can do to restore natural capital,” addresses topics beyond plastic, but refers to the material in several of its five chapters.

Among the 12 actions recommended by the report, most involve either “regenerative-agriculture techniques, food waste reduction [or] new delivery models that reduce plastic production (for instance, returnable and reusable container programs).”

The report’s authors, in a subsection titled “Addressing plastic waste,” write in part, “By reducing the amount of plastic in packaging, implementing new delivery models (for instance, returnable and reusable container programs), expanding mechanical and chemical recycling of plastics, and using compostable bioplastics—could help the retail sales and services sector address 52 percent of the plastic pollution overage.”

McKinsey adds, “Plastic reduction and alternative delivery models would be ROI (return on investment) positive, providing an estimated $35 billion annually in value by reducing the amount of plastic needed.”

The firm continues, “The remaining levers [presumably including chemical recycling] are ROI negative, costing $40 billion annually from increased capital and operational costs. While the levers above could reduce plastic waste emissions to aquatic environments in the long run, improved plastic waste management will be critical in the short term because plastic production is expected to remain high.”

In another portion of the report, the consultancy writes, “Beyond traditional mechanical recycling, chemical recycling technology including chemolysis, hygrothermal recycling, and gasification could provide new opportunities for plastic reuse.”

While the McKinsey audience largely might be corporate, the consultancy adds, “Companies can do much to support the return to a safe operating space for humanity, but they cannot do it on their own. Other stakeholders in both the public and social sectors would have a critical role to play in tackling issues including evolving regulatory and policy guidance.”

The report, which covers numerous climate change and natural environment topics beyond the use and recycling of plastic, can be downloaded from this web page. By Brian Taylor