The challenges of Covid-19 pandemic on improving plastic waste recycling rates

Sustain Prod Consum. 2021 Oct;28:726-735. doi: 10.1016/j.spc.2021.07.001. Epub 2021 Jul 6.


The plastic system is burdened with many inefficiencies that have been exposed, and exacerbated, by the outbreak of the coronavirus (SARS-CoV2) pandemic in December 2019, widely known as COVID-19, and which threaten society's commitment to transition to a sustainable plastics economy. This perspective aims to depict the structural and systemic inefficiencies of the plastics system, and illuminate: (a) the vulnerability of the recycling sector to macroeconomic - particularly to oil price - shocks; (b) the economics of the recycling system; (c) the political dimensions of the plastics sector. It emphasises that is unwise to think about plastics recycling as an insular and linear problem, due to the complexity and interconnectedness of different parts of the plastic system that affect and are affected by the intertwined processes, stakeholders and values. That said, the transition to a sustainable plastics system requires an integrated, knowledge-based systems approach that interrogates the dynamics and causal-effect relationships of the interconnected challenges. This analytical scrutiny can indicate where interventions are needed in the plastics system towards creating transformational change.

Keywords: COVID-19; Environmental policies; Plastics recycling; Recycled plastics price; Recycling economics; Virgin plastics production.

Publication types

  • Review