COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (ICIS)--Producers should make sure that they play a role in how nations will regulate plastic waste and recycling.
Those regulations will affect a large portion of future plastics market, said Paul Bjacek, principal director, research, chemicals and natural resources, for the consultancy Accenture. He made his comments on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the American Chemistry Council (ACC).
The table below shows how much plastic capacity could be lost by 2040, according to Accenture.Source: Accenture
Nations around the world will feel pressured to address plastic waste and pollution because it is a visible and palpable problem that companies cannot dismiss or deny, Bjacek said.
Activists are pushing for bans on plastic bags, and the EU is considering regulations to encourage plastic recycling and the circular economy.
The American Chemistry Council (ACC) has set goals to recycle and recover all plastic packaging by 2040.
"This is a real, upfront, in-your-face issue," Bjacek said.
Even if the world recycles more plastic, Bjacek expects demand for resin to continue rising because of growth in population and wealth. He estimates that global per-capita income is expanding by 1.6%/year.
Nonetheless, plastics recycling will affect a significant share of the market, and regulators show no signs of letting the issue pass. With that, companies need to be involved and prepared for a world in which much more plastic is recycled.
Options are already growing. Much of the plastic produced in the world is used in disposable plastics, and these are often clear.
Companies could use these clear plastics as feedstock for crackers because they lack the additives that could foul catalysts, Bjacek said.
Other plastics could be burned as fuel, he said.
While these could be more expensive than more traditional fuels and feedstocks, governments could adopt incentives and credits to encourage the use of plastic substitutes – similar to what they already do for biofuels and renewable energy, he said.
Bjacek warned against chemical companies becoming actively involved in collecting plastic waste. This is well beyond their core competencies.
Instead, companies could establish partnerships or create joint ventures that would undertake waste collection on their behalves, he said.
Already, LyondellBasell had created a joint venture with SUEZ called Quality Circular Polymers.
SUEZ operates nine facilities in Europe that are dedicated to plastics recycling. The joint venture will convert used plastics into polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP).
In the US, Agilyx started up a plant in Tigard, Oregon, that converts waste polystyrene (PS) into styrene oil.
AmSty and INEOS Styrolution will use this material in their PS stream.
Other strategies focus on supply chains.
Sweden standardised the size of plastic crates used by the grocery industry. This made it much easier to use and re-use the crates throughout the distribution chain, Bjacek said.
Interview article by Al Greenwood