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Plastics show the strongest production growth of all bulk materials and already account for 4.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. In the absence of new policies, global demand for plastics is expected to double by 2050 and more than triple by 2100, with an almost equal increase in CO2 emissions.
Editorial office / Delft

By fully powering a circular biobased plastics industry with emission-free electricity, and abandoning waste incineration, the tide can be turned. The sector may even eventually evolve into a form of carbon storage. This is the finding of researchers from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), Utrecht University, the Dutch Sustainable Energy Association (NVDE) and TNO in the journal Nature.

The researchers analyse three alternative CO2 emission reduction paths for the global plastics sector until 2100, covering the entire life cycle from production to waste management. The results show that a combination of using biomass and landfilling waste through bio-based carbon sequestration in plastic products can lead to negative emissions in the long term.

A circular economy without an additional boost to the bioeconomy reduces resource consumption by 30% and provides 10% more emission reductions before 2050, while limiting the potential for negative emissions in the long term. A circular bioeconomy that combines recycling with increased use of biomass could eventually transform the sector into a net carbon sink, while simultaneously phasing out landfill and reducing resource consumption.

Read more in the article in Nature.

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