Which way to circular economy to reduce plastic pollution.


Date of publication 27 April 2020

Authors Black, Jeffrey E.; Kopke, Kathrin; O’Mahony, Cathal.

Sources Towards a Circular Economy: Using Stakeholder Subjectivity to Identify Priorities, Consensus, and Conflict in the Irish EPS/XPS Market (2019) Sustainability : 11 (DocId: 23) 6834.

DOILink https://doi.org/10.3390/su11236834



In European Seas, plastic litter from fishing activities, river transport, and poor waste management is one of the fastest growing threats to the health of the marine environment. Extruded polystyrene (XPS) and expanded polystyrene (EPS), specifically, have become some of the most prominent types of marine litter found around Europe’s coastlines.

To combat this problem, the European Commission has ratified a series of regulations and policies, including the Single-Use Plastics Directive and the EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy. However, in order to ensure that the benefits of such regulations and policies are realized at a scale that can adequately address the scope of the problem, decision-makers will need to integrate the opinions, values, and priorities of relevant stakeholders who operate across the EPS/XPS product lifecycle.

In this study, a methodology was applied to identify the priorities of stakeholders as they relate to the Irish EPS/XPS market and the wider societal transition to a circular economy. Based on the responses of nineteen individuals representing industry, policy-makers, and community leaders, three distinct perspectives were identified: System Overhaul; Incremental Upgrade; and Market Innovation. The results demonstrate that the type and format of policy interventions linked to Ireland’s EPS/XPS circular economy are heavily contested, which presents significant challenges for driving the debate forward.

These results provide valuable information on viewpoints that can be used by different stakeholders at national and EU levels, ultimately fostering the development of more effective, broadly supported co-developed policies.

The SeaCleaners’ View :

There are many discussions on the potential of the circular economy and its foundations are in a state of almost permanent change, depending on the application one wishes to make of it. The European Union is beginning to draw up a somewhat more structured and formal framework around this concept and is placing it among its priorities for economic development in the medium and long term. The best way to develop the circular economy is to apply it to a concrete case.

The authors present here a study on environmental pollution in Ireland by expanded or extruded polystyrene. It is a material widely used in insulation, packaging and disposable tableware because it is inexpensive and very light to transport. To solve this pollution, the reflection on the circular economy allows to consider all the actors of the value chain: producers, processors, consumers, policy makers as well as the opinion of the civil society. The presentation of the problem and the possible scenarios were described to them while remaining focused on polystyrene pollution. The redesign of the economic system was one of the scenarios. For the participants in the survey of this study, societal change is not the responsibility of a single economic sector.

The transition to the circular economy is a real challenge that will be all the more difficult as the current economic system, more or less amended, continues with its production of capital and its unequal distribution of the generated wealth. The long-term impacts of this approach are perceptible at the human and environmental level, but the economic model remains a challenge. Industrialists are very concerned about the feasibility and viability of this new system on a global scale, including the more or less long transition period to this system. This is why they prefer the scenario that proposes a gradual evolution of current practices towards greater respect for the environment and in the very long term towards a circular economy that will be based essentially on the recycling of materials, without taking into account the societal aspect.

In this scenario, the action focuses massively on the consumer who will be responsible for consuming just and sorting the waste to be recycled. It is to be expected that in this perspective, the additional costs of these new practices would also be borne by the consumer. Among the actors mobilized in this study, there are clearly conflicts on the prospects for reducing marine plastic pollution through a transition to the circular economy. However, areas of consensus were observed in this study: 1) having a material designed to be fully recyclable, 2) a priority set to industrialists for the management of their waste, 3) consumer education on plastic pollution. They could serve as a basis for the development of governance with applicable and effective measures in transition to the circular economy.

This type of study initiated in Ireland could be usefully replicated in different countries.

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