Extended producer responsibility: How to unlock the environmental and economic potential of plastic packaging waste?

Susanna Andreasi Bassi*, Alessio Boldrin, Giorgia Faraca, Thomas Fruergaard Astrup

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Abstract

Several are the challenges related to plastic waste, spanning from littering, high collection costs, and low recycling rates. Extended producer responsibility (EPR) is considered a key initiative to tackle some of these issues. To evaluate EPR role and effectiveness, 40 management scenarios focused on plastic packaging waste generated by Italian households were investigated, and their environmental performance (via a consequential life cycle assessment) and the economic sustainability of their waste value chain (via a cost-benefit analysis for each stakeholder) were compared to the recycling targets. Overall, packaging waste management represented an environmental burden. Yet, environmental benefits can be achieved by maximizing the collection rate, while minimizing the impurities collected with the source-segregated plastic and the processing losses in the recycling chain. Furthermore, the cost-benefit analysis showed that the recyclers are the weakest link in the value chain, and recycling of soft plastic and mixed polyolefin is generally not profitable. This increases the risk of exporting low-quality materials outside Europe, where their fate is uncertain. Finally, the results demonstrate that improving plastic packaging recyclability and strengthening the market for secondary plastic is critical for reaching the European recycling targets of 55% in 2030.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105030
JournalResources, Conservation and Recycling
Volume162
Number of pages12
ISSN0921-3449
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Keywords

  • Circular economy
  • Economic assessment
  • Environmental assessment
  • Household source-segregated plastic waste
  • Life Cycle Assessment
  • Recycling target

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