Aug 19, 2020 - Energy & Environment

How to change the "unsustainable" path of materials extraction

Reproduced from Wood Mackenzie; Chart: Axios Visuals
Reproduced from Wood Mackenzie; Chart: Axios Visuals

The global rate of materials extraction is "unsustainable" and there's a need to untether economic growth from consumption, per a new public report from the consultancy Wood Mackenzie.

Why it matters: It argues major industries should embark on a "materials transition" — a phrase akin to the now-common term "energy transition" used to describe movement toward climate-friendly sources.

  • Those industries include construction and infrastructure, which is a major driver of the use of non-metallic minerals.

What to watch: The report uses the plastics and packaging sector as a case study for how a transition toward a more sustainable system can occur.

  • It envisions a future with tougher rules and big investments, compared to current trends, in chemical and mechanical recycling.

By the numbers: Wood Mackenzie analyzed the future of major packaging plastics: polyethylene, polypropylene and polyethylene terephthalate.

  • In its "current path" scenario, recycling rises from 17% to 38% in 2040. On a more sustainable path, that would rise to 67%.
  • "By 2040, this results in an additional 53 million tonnes of packaging plastic prevented from going into landfill, energy recovery or unmanaged waste streams...Cumulatively, from 2020 to 2040, this rises to 382 million tonnes."
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