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China ban spurs circular economy for plastics



ImpactAlpha, Jan. 23 – If someone were to remake The Graduate today, the career advice famously imparted to Dustin Hoffman in the 1967 film classic might be: sustainable plastics.

The wonder material of the last century has turned into this century’s environmental nightmare. Much of the world’s plastic, from bags and wrappers to containers and toys, ends up in landfills or oceans.

Almost 18 billion pounds of plastic are dumped into oceans each year – the equivalent of nearly 57,000 blue whales, as Conservation International points out. At this rate, ocean plastic will outweigh all of the ocean’s fish by 2050.

These concerns have prompted government responses. The most far-reaching to date: China’s decision this week to ban nondegradable plastic bags, straws and single-use plastics beginning as soon as this year.

Combined with its move two years ago to stop accepting the world’s plastic waste, China is pushing nations to deal with their plastics problems. 

Starbuck’s venti-size challenge

The java giant this week announced it would shift from single-use to reusable plastics, cut global packaging waste in half by 2030, and join the MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Global Commitment as part of a broader sustainability commitment. Last month, Starbuck’s smaller rival Blue Bottle said it would aim to eliminate disposable single-use cups by the end of the year. 

Alt-plastic

New York-based Loliware, which makes seaweed-based materials to replace plastics, raised $6 million in a deal led by Hatzimemos/Libby. It’s first product is a kelp-based straw that it expects to sell 1 billion of this year. Next up: cups and utensils. Other investors in the seed round include New York Ventures, Magic Hour, For Good VC, Geekdom Fund, HumanCo VC, CityRock and Closed Loop Partners. 

Renewable packaging

Nestle earlier this week earmarked $258 million to invest in renewable packaging companies. The planned investments are part of the food giant’s commitment to use 100% recyclable or reusable packaging by 2025. 

Asian funding gap

Indonesia, among the 19 Asian nations responsible for more than 80% of plastic waste in oceans, plans to end plastic pollution by 2040. Circulate Capital’s Rob Kaplan identifies a $5 billion funding gap in five Asian nations that, if plugged, could prevent 45% of plastic waste flow into oceans. In December, the firm announced a first close of its $106 million Circulate Capital Ocean Fund.

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