Plastics as a Materials System in a Circular Economy

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Plastics have transformed our modern world. With a range of outstanding properties, they are used in an ever-widening range of applications. However, the linear economy of their use means that a large volume of plastics is discarded after use. It is believed that approximately 80% of the estimated total 6.3 Bt of plastics ever produced have been discarded, representing not only a huge loss of valuable resources, but mismanaged waste is also the origin of an ever-increasing environmental disaster. Strategies to prevent loss of materials resources and damage to the environment are elements of a circular plastics economy that aims to maintain plastics at their highest value for the longest time possible and at the same time improve the economy and prevent detrimental environmental impact. The latter in particular is driving recent changes in policies and legislation across the world that are rapidly being introduced in order to solve these environmental issues. The achievement of a circular economy will require not only innovative technical developments, but also major economic investment and changes to business practice coupled with significant changes in social behaviour. This paper summarizes the complex and highly interrelated technical issues and provides an overview of the major challenges, potential solutions and opportunities required to achieve and operate a circular plastics economy.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20190268
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
Issue number2176
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jul 2020


  • bioplastics
  • circular economy
  • energy recovery
  • polymers
  • recycling
  • reuse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Mathematics
  • General Engineering
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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