Low levels of plastics circularity today reflect major challenges for the sector to reduce environmental impacts and a need for wider systemic change. In this work, we investigated the potential for climate and socioeconomic benefits of circular economy (CE) interventions in the plastic packaging system. By means of a mixed-unit input-output (IO) model, we performed a comparative scenario analysis for the development of demand and waste management up to 2030 within the EU-28 (EU27 + United Kingdom). We modeled the development of material flows and assessed the effects of both demand-side and end-of-life interventions. Different levels of ambition toward 2030 based on EU circular economy strategies were tested. Results showed that on reaching high levels of circularity, between 14 and 22 Mt CO2-eq/year could be reduced by 2030 (20-30% of the total sector impact in 2018) compared to business-as-usual. Demand change (e.g., by decreasing product packaging intensities) showed similar emission-saving potential as achieving the current recycling target of 55%, which emphasizes the role of demand-side actions. Most scenarios displayed moderate employment gains and potential economic losses, pertaining to both direct and indirect activity shifts in the economy. While considering model limitations, the approach is useful in indicating potential first-order effects of system changes.
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© 2023 The Authors. Published by American Chemical Society