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What do the results of the "Global Plastics Flow" study tell us?

The Global Plastics Flow study provides us for the first time with global data also on the status of the circular economy. It makes clear the global dimensions of the waste that lands in the environment and identifies which regions of the world are experiencing particularly severe littering. To evaluate the results and establish what conclusions can be drawn from them, we asked Thorsten Kühmann, Managing Director VDMA Plastics and Rubber Machinery Association, for his opinion. It was this association together with seven other associations and organisations that commissioned the Global Plastics Flow study.

The study entitled "Global Plastics Flow 2018" is described as a pilot study. In your opinion, how reliable is the overall picture extrapolated from the different sources?

I consider it to be very reliable, because statistical sources from the key sales markets for plastics were used and evaluated with a high level of accuracy. It differs systematically from previous estimates, which worked with far fewer sources. In my opinion, a good starting point has at least been set that will serve as a reference for the coming years.

A functioning circular economy is essential to avoid discharges into the environment and into the seas. What conclusions do you draw from the study when you look in particular at the figures for waste treatment and for the discharge of plastic waste into the environment?

The undisputable conclusion is that we are still a long way away from the goal of having a functioning circular economy worldwide. Over 70 million tonnes of plastic end up in the environment every year. That is appalling and we can simply not accept it. The prime target must therefore be to combat plastics littering worldwide. The German-speaking region of Europe (DACH) as well as Scandinavia and Japan are demonstrating in exemplary fashion how this can be done. The key is to adopt a systemic approach with a functioning waste management system. In the second step, it is a case of recycling the waste plastics, and processing them into new plastic products. It is important that we get to grips with this process not only as an industry, but also as a society.

The pilot study was commissioned by the Global Plastics Alliance, while the contractor came from Germany. In terms of the methodology, the study is based on approaches developed in Germany. What in your view is needed to gain global acceptance of the study? How will the pilot study be carried on after this first stage?

It is important to include other partners in the project and point out its global importance. At the end of it all, it is completely irrelevant who developed the methodology. What counts are the results and above all what conclusions we draw worldwide. The credibility of the study comes from the fact that we have not embellished anything and that we have created transparency for us and also for the public. The pilot study has already generated a great deal of resonance and has also given indications of aspects we need to work on. This information will be taken into account in an analysis phase and will flow into the next update in around two years. Overall, we feel vindicated in continuing this process of a critical, data-based approach to the littering problem.

(January 2020)