Sustainable routes for the plastics economy: A study of the scale of the problem, current legislation and solutions

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Plastics are used in a wide range of applications due to affordability, durability and versatility. However, there are concerns related to end of life of plastics, resulting in increasing scientific scrutiny, media campaigning and growing public awareness. This has stimulated policy-makers to introduce changes aiming to reduce plastic consumption and production.
There is an estimated global stockpile of about 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic waste with the EU generating around 26 million tonnes annually. According to recent estimates, the amount of plastic waste generated in UK was 2.6 million tonnes and 0.12 million tonnes in North Ireland (N Ireland) in 2017. Out of the total plastic waste, only 47 thousand tonnes were used in N Ireland for recycling and recovery. Moreover, approximately 75% of plastic waste arisings are from municipal waste streams, which can be reduced by incorporating changes in the ways plastics are used in household activities.
The UK Plastics Pact (2018), which aims to transform the UK packaging plastic sector and, the Single Use Plastics Guidelines (Directive EU/2019, on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment) which proposes a ban on the single use plastics for which alternatives exist, are going to play a key role in transition of the plastics economy in N Ireland. However, there is a dearth of studies giving details of existing plastics economy in N Ireland. To this end, the present research aims towards understanding the scale of the plastics problem in N Ireland to encourage innovations in the plastics sector.
The specific objectives of the study are to investigate: (1) an overview of the plastic waste production; (2) the current legislation and guidelines to improve the circularity of the plastics life cycle; (3) the stakeholders involved in recycling and producing plastics from post manufacturing plastic waste; (4) future work and proposed improvements in N Ireland.
In N Ireland, plastic recyclers and collectors, such as Bryson recycling, Cherry Pipes Ltd, Plaswire Ltd, Emerald Isle Ltd, RiverRidge Ltd, Shabra Plastics and Recycling Ltd, and Van Werven Ltd, recycle plastic waste from municipal arisings, farms, complex post manufacturing arisings. However, a closed loop of plastics economy is yet to be achieved in N Ireland. Potential solutions to achieve a closed loop are to, produce biodegradable plastics, incorporate recycled plastics with virgin plastics, so as to reduce use of virgin plastics, incentives to reduce plastic waste to both consumers and industries, energy recovery from plastic waste, design of products from recycled plastics and carbon foot-printing of various recycling methods.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2019
EventSecond Joint NSFC-RSC Symposium on Sustainable Chemistry and Processes - University of York, York, United Kingdom
Duration: 19 Sep 201920 Sep 2019


OtherSecond Joint NSFC-RSC Symposium on Sustainable Chemistry and Processes
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • Plastic waste
  • Sustainability
  • Circular economy
  • Recovery
  • Recycling


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