Waste Not
Project MainStream Launches 3 Programs to Help Scale Circular Economy

Project MainStream, part of the World Economic Forum’s Circular Economy initiative, has launched three new programs focused on developing ways of scaling the circular economy through materials management, information technology and business model innovation, among others.

Focusing on plastic packaging, paper and paperboard and asset tracking, Project MainStream aims to advance collaboration across these major supply chains in 2015 to address current bottlenecks and leakages that result in loss of material value. These three new programs usher in the first stage of MainStream’s implementation, which involves over thirty global companies working together to help redesign materials flows across the economy.

The project is driven by a steering board comprising the CEOs of Brambles, Brightstar, BT, Desso, Royal DSM, Ecolab, Indorama Ventures, Kingfisher, Royal Philips, Suez Environnement and Veolia. MainStream says it is also seeking to work with global Foundations and NGOs in this next phase of the project.

Plastic packaging

Annual material demand for PET and polyester, which is used in plastic bottles and the textile industry, totals about 54 million tons, of which roughly 86 percent leaks out of the system, says MainStream. This program aims to close the gap between design of packaging and the design of municipal systems, which are developed in isolation and result in almost all packaging being made from virgin materials, and used just once. By working with leading companies and cities to create an authoritative global plastic packaging roadmap, MainStream aims to enable a 20-year transition to effective packaging solutions based predominantly on reuse and recycling of plastic. It is estimated that nearly $4 billion in value could be created from the better use of PET alone.

Paper and paperboard

Total annual production of paper and paperboard will amount to about 480 million tons in 2020, according to MainStream. Paper already has a relatively high global recycling rate at about 65 percent, but the challenge preventing fully circular flows lies in the many additives used in the product and packaging design process. The program aims to define a set of simple design rules, with specific focus on chemical additives and inks, which could become a benchmark for policy makers around the world. Some 130 million of those tons leaks out of the system and can be addressed by this program — the economic value of this leakage is worth an estimated $10 billion.

Asset tracking

Globally, consumer electronics and household appliances with a cumulative value of roughly $390 billion reach end of life each year, MainStream says. However, the Industrial Internet and The Internet of Things has barely been deployed to extend across the length of and value of products’ lives. This asset tracking program seeks to develop a design and implementation toolkit that includes technology choice, consumer incentives and collaborative information sharing architecture to address the information gaps that prevent better decision making on what to do with a product when a user is finished with it. The initial focus will be on consumer electronics and medical equipment. Asset tracking could help unlock a potential value of about $52 billion annually in these sectors alone through more reuse, remanufacturing and recycling.

Last week, world leaders, activists and celebrities descended on Davos, Switzerland to discuss everything from Ebola to climate change and the future shape of the world economy at the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting 2015. Remco Teulings, CEO of Desso and president of Tarkett EMEA, participated as a discussion leader at the latest Project MainStream session to discuss the growth of the circular economy.

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