NEWSLETTER by Alessia Falsarone. The author acknowledges the team at The University of Chicago Circular Economy and Sustainable Business Management Program and all participants of the innovation knowledge hub for their insights and collaboration.

Climate week has arrived in New York and so has the annual UN General Assembly. It is that time of the year, three months before the annual Conference of Parties (COP) gathering, when bottlenecks in progress are revealed, metrics are unveiled, and goal setting is boosted. The importance of sustainable development and environmental resilience for global geopolitical stability is becoming increasingly evident.

To design and communicate an effective policy response in an international setting, it is crucial to understand the significance of embodied carbon. The global market for plastics provides some insights into this matter.


Circularity Roadmaps Explained

International trade is essential for the availability of material goods, including plastics, regardless of where they are produced. China’s ban on plastic waste imports in 2018 is expected to displace around 110 million tons of plastic waste in the 10 years following the ban. This has created a significant need for other countries, such as Australia, Canada, South Korea, and Japan, to improve their domestic waste management capabilities. To put it in perspective, the carbon emissions associated with the global plastics trade network in 2018 were comparable to the annual CO2 emissions of developed nations like Italy and France. Therefore, it is important to consider the embodied impacts, such as resources and emissions, that will be displaced due to such bans. Professor Khanna’s research highlights the importance of implementing circular economy strategies for plastic production and management in key countries like China, the USA, Germany, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea, as this can have a ripple effect throughout the global plastics trade network (*).

Policy responses that take into account these embodied impacts have a greater chance of delivering on their promises.

(*) credit to ACS Sustainable Chem. Eng. 2021, 9, 44, 14927–14936