Materials flow analysis in support of circular economy development: Plastics in Trinidad and Tobago
Can material flow analysis (MFA) support strategic decisions necessary for the development of circular economy (CE) in a developing country? MFA can be an essential tool in providing necessary data inputs for decisions related to the development of CE. Data-poor environments in developing economies, however, e.g. lack of data on physical flows in manufacturing, pose challenges to doing MFA. Other data however, in particular trade statistics accounting for shipment mass, are often available. We undertake a case study to characterize plastic flows in Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) for 2016, demonstrating how leveraging such data enables MFA. A notable result from the MFA is that much (48%) of the landfilled plastic in T&T comes from plastic packaging for imported products rather than intentional domestic use. This is an example of what is probably a typical CE challenge for island nations: Importing materials with limited domestic demand at end-of-life. We use the MFA results to propose suggestions for a more circular flow of plastics in T&T. First, there is potential to divert plastic
waste (including packaging plastic) for use as feedstock in a local cement plant. Second, the scale of PET plastic flows is of sufficient scale (26,000 metric tons annually) to make domestic recycle feasible. Techno-economic studies are needed to properly develop and evaluate these proposals, the role of the MFA here is to identify promising directions.