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Zero-waste circular economy of plastic packaging: The bottlenecks and a way forward

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Katarina Novakovic, Dr Deepashree Thumbarathy, Professor Marloes PeetersORCiD, Professor Mark GeogheganORCiD, Dr Josephine Go JefferiesORCiD, Professor Christian Hicks, Professor Danae ManikaORCiD, Professor Sheng Dai



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Interest in recycling is higher than ever, with the recycling of plastic packaging waste being a significant concern for the general public and governments worldwide. However, the rate of plastic packaging waste recycling has stagnated over the past five years. This implies current strategies are insufficient and new approaches are required. We evaluate the present situation and highlight the bottlenecks that are limiting efficient recovery of plastic packaging waste using currently available systems. Difficult to recycle thermoplastics such as polystyrene and poly(vinyl chloride) are not needed in packaging, which we propose should be based on poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET), polypropylene (PP), high-density and low-density polyethylene (HDPE and LDPE respectively). Furthermore, we draw attention to the opportunity for keeping PET/PP packaging as a single waste stream, and leaving HDPE and LDPE as a standalone stream, to enable efficient plastic separation of individual types of plastic for mechanical recycling to achieve a zero-waste circular economy for all plastic packaging.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Novakovic K, Thumbarathy D, Peeters M, Geoghegan M, Go Jefferies J, Hicks C, Manika D, Dai S

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Sustainable Materials and Technologies

Year: 2023

Volume: 38

Print publication date: 01/12/2023

Online publication date: 30/09/2023

Acceptance date: 27/09/2023

Date deposited: 20/10/2023

ISSN (print): 2214-9929

ISSN (electronic): 2214-9937

Publisher: Elsevier BV


DOI: 10.1016/j.susmat.2023.e00735


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