We have limited Spanish content available. View Spanish content.

Impact Report

Promoting Circularity and Ending Waste

Promoting Circularity and Ending Waste

Multi-stakeholder partnerships and individual corporate commitment will both be needed to meaningfully slow consumption and better manage waste. 

The Challenge

Poor waste management and overconsumption of natural resources are a serious environmental threat to many ecosystems and contribute to air pollution and climate change. For example, according to the World Economic Forum, plastic waste in the ocean will outweigh all of the fish by 2050. In a preview of the serious implications for our economy today and in the future, resource scarcity is already contributing to increased price volatility.

Our Approach

We help forge effective multi-stakeholder partnerships critical to tackling the challenges and complexities of eliminating waste. We help companies that produce and use plastic and other disposable materials become part of the solution, making their operations and products more sustainable by leveraging the four Rs: reduce, replace, recycle, and reinvent. And we draw on a deep understanding of the waste management industry and ecosystem, innovation, and business building to help clients in all sectors design out waste, enable traceability, and unlock circular supply chains.

UN Sustainable Development Goals This Work Supports

UN Sustainable Development Goals This Work Supports

When it comes to promoting recycling and reuse of plastics, any major breakthrough will require the cooperation of a broad group of parties across a wide and diverse ecosystem.

This is exactly what a large energy multinational found when it recently began exploring chemical recycling of post-consumer plastic waste. From emissions to ocean plastics, the problems of managing this waste are well documented, and much of it cannot be mechanically recycled. In Europe, much is incinerated to generate heat and energy, but in many other parts of the world, it just goes into landfill.

As the company explored developments in the space, the complexity of the undertaking became clear. It would require waste management companies to collect and sort waste, innovative technology companies to treat and transform that waste into liquid fuels, refiners and chemical companies to process the fuels, and brand owners to develop and market end products that are in demand. Developing this market would require systematic coordination and partnerships across the value chain.


Davos 2020: Tackling the Plastics Challenge

Bain's Jenny Davis-Peccoud shares long-term solutions to cut down on the use of plastic worldwide.

Over the course of a year, we helped the multinational begin to put these pieces in place, advising on strategy, business model, and potential partnership structures. The company has since completed a number of partnerships and is planning its first industrial-scale demonstration of plastic waste processing.

Plastic waste in waterways is the central focus of another group we work with, the Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW). Founded in 2019 with a commitment of $1.5 billion, and composed of approximately 80 member companies, project partners, and supporters, the Alliance is working to develop solutions to the problem of plastic waste, with an emphasis on developing economies in Asia. We have been involved with AEPW from its early days, assisting with the launch and setting up its operating model and strategic priorities. That included developing an investing framework that assesses the trade-offs between cost and impact of various ways of disposing of plastic, as well as pertinent local and regional policy considerations.

One recent investment is a program that turns plastic waste from Manila into planks used in building emergency shelters for Filipinos displaced by natural disasters. AEPW also backs a 90-day accelerator program that recently selected 11 creative start-ups in Asia. These include a clean technology company that recovers polyester and cellulose from textiles and clothing, the maker of a smart robot that can collect floating waste in waterways, and a start-up focused on unlocking the market for premium recycled plastics in India.

In addition to our work with AEPW and individual companies, we are partnering with the World Economic Forum (WEF) to accelerate a manufacturing and supply chain transformation by scaling digital traceability for greater sustainability, circularity, efficiency, and resilience. This initiative brings together manufacturers, suppliers, consumers, and regulators to collaborate on solutions and act as a supporting ecosystem.

We have helped build a body of research and publications on our findings and organized regular workshops with industry leaders to tap into their expertise and engage them in this work. We will soon publish a traceability toolkit, and we are establishing at WEF a community of supply chain, sustainability, technology, and operations leaders, among others, to push these ideas forward. A number of important platforms are also being piloted in different industries to illustrate how traceability can accelerate sustainable production and how industry-wide standards and protocols for collaboration can help those solutions grow to scale.