Circular economy and degrowth perspectives on plastic collection and recycling on Bali

University essay from Lunds universitet/Miljö- och energisystem

Abstract: This thesis studies plastic littering, collection and recycling on Bali in Indonesia. Due to unsound waste management systems, low awareness and few incentives for collection, plastic waste has the tendency to leak to the environment, where it pollutes land and water, and poses a threat to wildlife and human health. With a case study of the for-profit social enterprise the Plastic Bank that trades with plastic waste, this study investigates what types of plastics are considered ‘recyclable’ or ‘non-recyclable’ and why. Data was collected as fieldwork on Bali through pick analyses, interviews and participant observations. In the environment, the most commonly found plastic waste category was ‘food wrappers’, which are considered non-recyclable because of their low market value and typical food contamination. The Plastic Bank defines a plastic type or product ‘recyclable’ if there is a recycler relatively nearby (on Bali) that is willing to buy the material. The findings were analysed through the lens of two sustainability concepts: circular economy and degrowth. Circular economy was chosen due to its emphasis on recycling to maintain materials in waste-free closed-loops, and degrowth due to its uncompromising and highlighted importance of not only ecology, but also social values and equity. Both concepts advocate a re-organisation of how we handle material resources in our societies, however with rather different ideas of how material use and environmental impact connect. The analysis brings forward how the Plastic Bank aligns with circular economy and degrowth in the form of a case study, and discusses differences and synergies between the two concepts when it comes to solving sustainability problems related to plastic waste. Today, the Plastic Bank’s model of financially incentivising collectors and enhancing circularity of material flows is not cohered since the market is not assigning a value to the most polluting types of plastic waste. In order to stop plastic littering to the environment, incentives to care for all types of plastic waste need to be created (from a circular economy perspective). Alternatively, plastic use has to be reduced in absolute terms (from a degrowth perspective). This is a significant problem to address, with mitigation or remediation efforts against plastic waste, since the global demand for plastic is only expected to increase.

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