The impact of COVID-19 on the plastic recycling industry

set of medical protective face masks
facial mask discarded on ground
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Plastics are made from oil.

The global economic slowdown following the draconic COVID-19 lockdown restrictions led to a plunge in oil prices, adding to the surplus of cheap input material available for the production of plastic resin. Unsurprisingly, plastic resin prices plummeted.

With a glut of cheap virgin plastic flooding the market, the use of secondary, i.e. ‘recycled’, plastic material turned into an economically unattractive option. Lower demand for its output has put the recycling sector into a dire financial situation, threatening the economic viability of the industry and putting many jobs in peril. 

For the plastic system to be sustainable, the reliance on virgin material needs to be minimized and the management of plastics waste optimized. This can only be achieved, however, once the intrinsic complexities of the system and the respective dynamics between production, consumption and governance parts are properly understood. What can be done to ensure that the sustainability of the plastic system does not end up as yet another victim of COVID-19?

 To find out more, read the article Why the pandemic could slash the amount of plastic waste we recycle” featuring in The Conversation, written by Norman Ebner and Eleni Iacovidou.