Transforming package into package; a case study into the drivers and barriers to a circular economy in the Dutch plastic food packaging industry.
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Disposable plastic packaging contributes to many problems. These include the depletion of resources, litter pollution of soil and sea and micro plastics coming into the food chain. This paper will contend that a circular economy (CE) could address these and other problems by relieving the pressures on natural resources and reducing the waste problem. The Netherlands has a relatively well functioning waste infrastructure, though has not yet reached a closed loop. While CE is not a new subject, and waste management has been extensively studied over the years, it has mostly been done on the output side and many scattered approaches to a CE exist. This explorative research studies the waste problem from redesigning of the supply chain perspective and combines the many scattered approaches. Moreover, it addresses the knowledge gap of the influence of awareness of the producing industry of the need for a CE. From these problems the research question is formulated: To what extent are the main stakeholders in the Dutch plastic food packaging supply chain exhibiting the behavioral alternatives attributing to a circular economy, and which drivers are influential in overcoming the barriers towards a circular economy from an institutional theory perspective? This will be studied through an embedded case study approach on the consecutive actors in the Dutch food packaging supply chain. Based on a literature study, the economic actors of the chain are interviewed through a semi-structured interview. Consumer behavior is studied in a literature study, and the relevant legislation is identified through desk research. Built on the extended conceptual model of sociological institutional theory by Zhu and Geng (2013), the drivers and barriers for the behavioral alternatives for a CE are explored. Based on the interviews and consumer literature study it can be concluded that many improvements need to be made before a CE can be accomplished. Costs, hindering regulations and policies, lacking technology and simple refusal to change are the most encountered barriers. However, these barriers can be overcome. The most progressive actors are often normatively influenced, and the actors who are both normatively and coercively driven encounter fewer barriers. This paper will demonstrate the importance of these drivers to overcome the barriers and show that mimetic driven actors do not usually undertake new initiatives. Hence, normative and coercive drivers seem to be most influential means to overcome the barriers to a CE.