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Knowledge category: Papers and reports

A circular economy for plastics: Insights from research and innovation to inform policy and funding decisions

Updated on 19.09.2023

This report aims to inform policy and funding decisions on a circular economy for plastics by providing research and innovation insights from EU-funded projects and the wider scientific community. The report covers the entire plastics value chain, highlighting a broad range of challenges and opportunities.

Author: Michiel De Smet, Rudy Koopmans, Karine van Doorsselaer, Costas Velis
Year of publication: 2019

More information

A crucial challenge in the plastics value chain is plastic pollution and substances of concern to human health and the environment, resulting in economic and environmental costs to society. The scientific understanding of this is still fragmented, especially regarding sources and impacts. Therefore, more cross value-chain collaboration and systems thinking is needed.


Based on scientific evidence, the insights presented in this report contribute to the transition towards plastic production from renewable feedstock and product design for use, reuse, repair and mechanical, chemical or organic recycling. The report provides recommendations on designs, business models and policy making for plastics in a circular economy. It also provides insights into the impact of plastics on society and the environment, including plastics pollution and substances of concern to human and environmental health.


The report gives policy recommendations, as well as research and development priorities and a link to the EU plastics strategy. In addition, the report explains how this systemic change can be supported by innovation in business models, collection systems, and sorting and recycling technologies. It highlights that current innovations typically focus on tackling a single issue, rather than focusing on the entire value chain. Limited innovations have been developed in business model design and current laws do not promote cross value-chain collaboration. There are still many knowledge gaps in impacts of plastics on society and many technological barriers for solutions.

Relevance for Circular Systemic Solutions

The article provides novel sources, designs, and business models for plastics in a circular economy and proposes circular after-use pathways for plastics, focusing on collection and sorting, mechanical recycling, and organic recycling and biodegradation. All of this may be interesting for cities and regions that have a Circular Systemic Solution focused on plastics.

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