Plastic Futures

With a global market that ships not only products but also waste, the plastic problem is a truly global one. How much is your organization producing and consuming plastic and disposing of it in sustainable ways? Do you have a plastics use reduction plan that is ahead of coming regulations and rivals? Read on to discover the risks and the opportunities.

Athena’s forecast (robot generated from verbatim forecasts)

  • Start year: Ongoing
  • Likely Tipping point: 2030
  • Likely End year: 2050
  • Likely Impact $: Billions
  • Likelihood: 85%
  • Regions affected: Global
  • Most affected sectors: Healthcare, Food, Plastics, Clothing, Manufacturing, Energy

What is changing?


  • High-performance plastic packaging has proven to keep food fresher for longer periods of time and will be increasingly adapted in food service markets in 2016.
  • The F&B sector is a major consumer of plastic packaging as theproducts in this sector are fast moving and need to be light and cheap to reduce transportation costs and to facilitate instant disposal.
  • Lack of government support especially in the developed countries is expected to curb the growth of the biodegradable packaging market.
  • The introduction of the new single-use plastic carrier bag charge inEngland will potentially reduce the numbers of plastic bagsgoing into landfill.
  • Plastics packaging is the most important application ofbiodegradable plastic and is projected to grow at a rapid pace.
  • Overall, major trends of packaging in food supply chains will need to address the quality of materials and their substitutes,food safety and convenience issues as well as theattractiveness of the final product in the future.


  • Plastic packaging is forecasted to grow at 5% through 2017 and will be driven by multiple pioneering innovations.
  • Plastic pollution will most likely grow in scale with rising production.
  • Across luxury packaging materials, plastic and glass are forecast to show the highest growth rates in value terms during the period 2014-19.
  • Inexpensive rigid plastics are expected to grow steadily through consumer channels.
  • With a total value of $260 billion, plastic packaging volumes are expected to continue their strong growth.
  • The manufacture of synthetic molecules via bio-process engineering will be critical to pharmaceuticals, plastics and polymers.


  • Code changes that call for houses to be better sealed to prevent air leaks will boost demand for foamed plastic insulationdespite its higher cost.


  • The annual cumulative output of plastic into the world’s oceans will be around 155 million metric tons.
  • Selfridges bans plastic bottles to tackle ocean pollution.
  • France will outlaw single-use plastic bags as of January 2016.
  • New polymer (plastic) materials made from renewable sources instead of petroleum may have fewer health risks and are more sustainable than today’s plastic cups and bottles.
  • A 20-year-old inventor will begin trawling the world’s oceans to try to clean up plastic garbage patches-the sprawling clumpswhere most of the world’s 5 trillion pieces of plastic trash end up.
  • The amount of plastic waste entering the world’s oceans everyyear could be as much as 8 million tonnes.
  • Biodegradable plastics are expected to benefit from continued innovation and a heightened global emphasis on environmental sustainability.
  • European top consumers will ingest up to 11,000 microplastics per year.
  • There could be around a 4,000 tonne reduction in the microplastic being sold in cosmetic products every year in Europe.
  • Some cosmetics could contain up to 90% plastic.
  • The emission of greenhouse gases by the global plastics sector will account for 15% of the global annual carbon budget by 2050.


  • 53 percent of plastic packaging in Europe could today be recycled “ecoefficiently”.
  • Industrially compostable plastic packaging could be a good solution and scaled up for certain targeted applications.
  • Applying circular economy principles to global plastic packaging flows could transform the plastics economy and drastically reduce negative externalities such as leakage intooceans.
  • Many challenges associated with plastics could be addressed by improving management of the material across its life cycle.
  • A biodegradable container made from renewable sources that is so “natural” that it can be eaten-this really could replace anyplastic packaging.
  • Plastic-based packing materials such as the bubble wrap could be replaced with biodegradable aerogel-based foam or advanced cellulose aerogel nanosheets.
  • Circular models for plastic packaging could save $80-120 billion annually.
  • After-use plastics could be turned into valuable feedstock. The unpredictable cost of supply for fossil feedstock-based plastics is a risk.


  • The world’s oceans could be polluted with 1 ton of plastic for every 3 tons of fish by 2025.
  • More plastic pollution equals more risk of entanglement and ingestion by marine animals.
  • Microbes probably will not rid the ocean of plastic anytime soon.
  • A combination of rampant overfishing and plastic pollution will render the oceans empty of all life by the year 2048.


  • Even engines and gearboxes could be partially made from plastic in 2040.

Learn more

What future opportunities and risks could arise for your organization from advances in ‘Plastics’? Develop your answer and response here.

Find more sources and resources on Shaping Tomorrow , some of which were used in this Trend Alert, or ask us for our ready-made and free, in-depth PowerPoint report or more detailed GIST briefing on this or any other topic of interest to you.

Also, click here to find out how Shaping Tomorrow can help your organization rapidly assess and respond to these and other key issues affecting your business.
Ask us to show you how you can produce similar, private Alerts for your stakeholders on topics of interest to you.Athena’s forecast (robot generated from verbatim forecasts)


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