This week the global plastics flows topic made the news and social media with the publication of the EU Plastics Strategy and Chancellor Philip Hammond presenting the United Kingdom’s plan for tackling plastic waste.

Ellen MacArthur Foundation has long been active in research and awareness building in this field. It aims at supporting a transition to a circular economy. The foundation tweeting under @circulareconomy contributed this Sankey diagram. It is from a 2016 report they produced together with the World Economic Forum and McKinsey.

The Sankey diagram shows indeed, that “today, plastic packaging material flows are largely linear”. This beautifully crafted diagram had already caught my attention back in 2016 when I first saw it.

However, I had this subtle feeling that something was wrong here. Not regarding the content or the data … but rather that something wasn’t OK in the Sankey diagram, Just my gut feeling. Now, seeing the Sankey diagram again in the above tweet this week, I finally sat to quickly do a remake of this Sankey diagram. Here it is:

I stuck to the original layout and design as closely as possible, using the same color codes and even the white all caps font. While transfering the numbers (all percentage values, so no issue there), it immediately became clear to me what caused my irritation. Can you identify it yourself by comparing the two pics?

Won’t give it away now and wait for your comments. Will post the answers to this small ‘spot-the-difference contest’ here next week.

[Edit 24 Jan] Blog reader ‘First!’ was the first to comment and point out that the 2% recycling flow does not seem to be to scale (i.e too wide / overemphasized) in the Sankey diagram published by Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and possibly the same issue with the two arrows representing 14% each.

6 Responses to “Global Plastics, Ellen MacArthur Foundation”

  1. First! Says:

    The Process Losses and Cascaced Recycling arrows nowhere ran vertical or horizontal, and their oblique direction distorted the proportionality of arrow width to represented quantity.

  2. phineas Says:

    @First! … that’s not quite what caused my headaches. I would consider the soft upward curve of the two arrows you mention as within an artistic degree of freedom (I just chose to draw them with a less softer curve in my remake). Any other observation?

  3. First! Says:

    Some arrow widths are not to scale (not measured, my eyes may trick me…):
    4% and 8% are fishy, look more like a 2:3 ratio.
    8% is not 4x the width of 2%.
    2% and 98% are not same scale.
    And the separation of the outgoing arrows narrows the arrows, introducing error.
    If there’s more… I give up.

  4. First! Says:

    FWIW, after sending I got the error below (IP masked), but on reloading the comment had been accepted.
    ==========
    [full error message removed by mod]

  5. Sandy Rowley Says:

    Do you have infographic data on recycling GMO plastic and its affects on the eco system?

  6. phineas Says:

    @First! … you are absolutely right with your observations regarding flow widths not to scale.
    And you are the first (!) to comment this… 🙂

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