Mapping Local Plastic Recycling Supply Chains for The Circulate Initiative

Anthesis was an invaluable partner in data gathering, analysis, and facilitating discussions among various stakeholders. The study showed their in-depth understanding of the requirements for an efficient plastics recycling system.”

Umesh Madhavan – Research Director, The Circulate Initiative

Situation

Plastic recycling supply chains are often local and unique as they rely on many informal transactions driven by local conditions, traditions, and cultures, as well as local and regional infrastructure and markets.

Very few existing studies on national waste flows explore the plastic supply chains in a more localised context.

Recognising this need The Circulate Initiative selected Anthesis to be the lead research partner to conduct a detailed assessment of wastesheds in India, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Anthesis was supported by in-country partners to carry out the local interviews. The in-country partners were Evergreen Labs for Vietnam, PRO India for India, Rebel (with Waste4Change) for Indonesia, and the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) for Thailand.

The research aims to create a better understanding of the wastesheds and suggests potential interventions to grow plastics recycling and reduce environmental impact by:

  • Evaluating the plastic waste flows through the formal and informal waste sector.
  • Mapping the supply chains for plastic waste at a local level, including the key actors, infrastructure, and influencing regulations.
  • Tracking the economics of plastic recycling at each stage of the local plastic supply chains and the key factors influencing prices.
  • Identifying interventions to improve supply chains and increase plastic recycling.

Solution

The eight-month study undertaken in 2022 focused on PET, LDPE, HDPE, and PP plastics in the municipal waste, generated primarily by households and small businesses, as this is where many of the local environmental issues occur and where there appears to be the most potential to scale up plastic waste collection and recycling.

Information regarding plastic supply chains in each wasteshed was gathered through:

  • A review of publicly available literature,
  • In-country interviews conducted with local supply chain actors, and
  • Stakeholder interviews with organisations privy to local arrangements, such as local plastics associations, municipal waste management organisations, informal sector groups, waste operators, and producer responsibility organiations to gain additional insight and to help corroborate the findings.

Impact

The outcomes of the study was published by The Circulate Initiative here. The reports provide another step towards understanding wastesheds.

Key findings include:

  • The informal sector plays a critical role in the management of material, with workers benefiting economically, but this often comes with risks to their health and welfare. Leaving recycling activities to the informal sector results in supply chain insecurity for recyclers and is often a barrier to investment in local plastic supply chain infrastructure. In addition, there is a tendency to focus on collecting the most valuable polymers only, leaving large amounts of plastic waste uncollected or leaked into the environment.
  • The opportunity to improve the management of plastic waste and recover the inherent value is vast in India, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam. There is scope to increase the amount and consistency of recycled plastic supply, preserve the material value within these countries, and reduce dependency on polymer and plastic waste imports.
  • For local plastic supply chains to be effective, several conditions must be in place. These include demand from buyers for recyclates, which needs to be matched by the supply of good quality plastic waste; the right regulatory and policy framework and respective implementation measures; and transparent pricing at each stage to incentivise the investment of time and resources.
  • Supply chains must have the ability to scale, to increase the quantity and range of plastic collected for recycling to meet the growing demand for high-quality recycled plastic from local sources rather than imports.

In addition, Anthesis also provided four proprietary playbooks with additional infrastructure and economic analysis and a set of detailed company specific recommendations for investment opportunities in these countries.

Solutions cannot be achieved by one organisation or individual in isolation. Change will require dedication, collaboration, and cohesively planned investment from multiple influencers of local plastic recycling supply chains.