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Barriers and challenges to plastics valorisation in the context of a circular economy: Case studies from Italy

Paletta, A, Leal Filho, W, Balogun, AL, Foschi, E and Bonoli, A (2019) Barriers and challenges to plastics valorisation in the context of a circular economy: Case studies from Italy. Journal of Cleaner Production, 241. ISSN 0959-6526

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© 2019 Elsevier Ltd In 2017, over 320 million tons of polymers, excluding fibers, were manufactured across the globe. The excessive amounts of plastics produced today pose a threat to both man and nature. Urgent approaches towards reducing plastic consumption and increasing its recyclability are needed. This paper discusses the matter of accelerating the circularity of plastic-based material systems. It investigates a sample of plastics-converting companies in Emilia Romagna region (Italy), which stand out for radical innovations in business models, with the aim to catalyse changes in current manufacturing practices. The findings provide empirical support for a positive relationship between business strategies and the use of non-virgin plastic materials. The innovative value of this paper relies on the fact that it elaborates on the vision established within the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy that sets ambitious targets about achieving high plastic recycling targets by 2025. Legislative, economic, technological and social barriers can only be tackled by radically revising the current philosophy of designing, producing, distributing and consuming plastic as part of goods and services. A systemic thinking perspective is an essential building block in this context: moving from a micro to a meso-scale analysis can represent a useful means supporting the creation of viable management approaches towards achieving environmental and economic gains, especially in European plastic conversion industry, where SMEs are the majority (about 50000). Thanks to its analysis and scope, this paper provides useful insights to the plastic industry: it shows that this substantial improvements in this sector will require innovative solutions and major efforts by key decision makers, producers, recyclers, manufacturer, retailers as well as consumers.

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