AEPW to broaden membership, innovation on waste reuse key to success - ACC’s CEO

Source: ICIS News

2019/03/06

LONDON (ICIS)--The Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW) launched by private companies in January is set to broaden its membership to national chemicals trade groups as well as non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the CEO at US trade group the American Chemistry Council (ACC) said on Wednesday.

Cal Dooley, who also serves as council secretary of the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA), added that a key challenge with plastic waste would be to reuse it in order to bring economic benefits to the often-impoverished communities where a large portion of it derives from.

The ACC’s CEO, who is set to retire from that post at the end of 2019, added he was hopeful that executing the AEPW strategy, by proving that the plastic waste problem can be tackled, would bring on board some environmental groups who have given a cold reception to the initiative.

Dooley has been a key promoter of the AEPW, and he delayed his retirement as CEO of the ACC in order to help with its initial months of development.

Launched in January, the AEPW is formed of major industrial groups, including several petrochemicals companies like Germany’s BASF,  the US’ Dow Chemical and LyondellBasell, as well as consumer groups like Procter & Gamble (P&G), or services and engineering firms like Veolia, among others.

To see a list of AEPW members, click here.

The Alliance’s members have so far committed over $1bn to tackle the problem, and Dooley said that over the course of the next five years the figure should increase to around $1.5bn.

He said the organisation would not disclose, however, the exact amount each company is contributing with, adding that this is based on the size of each participant.

AEPW TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE
“What distinguishes the AEPW from other initiatives trying to address the problem of marine debris and waste is that the AEPW is going to be the largest private sector initiative in terms of the scope of engagement, as well as the amount of resources that will be deployed to show a tangible impact on eliminating plastic waste,” said Dooley.

However, large environmental groups have showed scepticism about the initiative.

At the time of the AEPW launch, Greenpeace said it was “a desperate attempt from corporate polluters” to keep the status quo, adding that plastics were “a lifeline for the dying fossil fuel industry” and the AEPW showed how far companies were willing to go in order to preserve it.

Dooley preferred to see the glass half-full, arguing that by opening up the AEPW in the future he hoped green groups would come on-board.

“The model is to provide opportunities for strategic partners that could represent some of the leading NGOs, perhaps in the environmental community as well as some key partners like Circulate Capital, and there will also be advisory roles for some of the national organisations,” he said, mentioning ACC itself or the EU’s chemicals trade group Cefic, among others.

Circulate Capital is one of the AEPW’s collaborating organisations and aims to be an incubator fund that will target both infrastructure and innovation.

Another key offshoot is Renewlogy, which oversees the Renew Oceans initiative that aims to clean up plastic waste from rivers and find ways to reuse and recycle it.

“We are absolutely confident that, if we execute the plan and the vision of the Alliance, we can demonstrate that by this collective effort we are going to deploy more resources and we are going to be able to capitalise the expertise and technical capabilities of some of the Alliance’s member companies,” said Dooley, pictured.

“We are going to have the ability to make more tangible impact in eliminating plastic waste from the environment than any other initiative that is in place today. We are confident that the success we are going to achieve will result in increasing support from the environmental community, as well as governmental entities that we’ll be partnering with.”

EMPOWERING THOSE MOST AFFECTED
Dooley was clear that the plastic waste problem stems mostly from emerging economies, especially in Asia, and conceded that the success of the initiative could only be measured by the ways the collected waste is reused – and the return on the capital invested.

“We will be developing metrics to ensure that there is a return on the investment we are making. [We’ll establish] Criteria to identify those strategic partners … to ensure we are going to see a tangible impact on reducing plastic waste,” he said.

“We are looking at how we can bring private sector dollars into efforts and initiatives to eliminate plastic waste, but also have the chance to be catalytic capital that can leverage public sector dollars that can increase the resources that are being deployed.”

He added that the Renew Oceans initiative had already partnered with US-headquartered broadcaster National Geographic to deploy small-scale technologies in the Ganges River in India, aiming to “empower small, often impoverished” communities to have an opportunity to make a profit from plastic waste.

“[They could benefit] By converting the plastic waste into different types of fuels which they can utilise or sell. This will have multiple benefits, from removing waste from the Ganges River but also providing much-needed financial resources for citizens of India that are at very low income levels,” said Dooley.

“[We need] Innovation that will result in the reformulation of some packaging materials and products, which will facilitate greater percentage of recyclability of those materials. Also developing the technologies that can recapture the value in terms of energy, but also developing technologies that can take the plastic waste stream back into a monomer that can be used perhaps as a feedstock.”

Moreover, he went on to say that while the industrialised, mostly western countries, have already achieved important infrastructure to recycle plastics, the key in emerging countries will be to develop waste management systems that allows them to effectively recover municipal waste that currently ends up in the environment.

CIRCULARITY AND CHEMICALS FIRMS
A true circular economy is still a dream scenario. The head of the EU’s chemicals regulator conceded in an interview with ICIS that most of the materials needed for a circular economy are yet to be invented, and said that the endeavour of circularity may take more than 50 years to be deployed.

Moreover, by reusing more materials, chemicals companies would need to, firstly, invest heavily to develop new materials which can be circular and, secondly, turn into some sort of recyclers as well as creators.

Dooley said that circularity would not be a threat to the business of traditional chemicals companies per se, because they would adapt and enhance the circularity of the materials they produce.

“[Our members are committed to] technologies that can recapture the value of a waste stream by enhancing the ability to recycle it, by ensuring we are capturing the energy in that waste stream as well as recovering and reusing the molecules,” he said.

“If you look at the global demographics, there will continue to be increasing consumption of plastics, exceeding GDP growth, and there is going to be great opportunities for companies throughout the value chain to capitalise on this, increasing market demand that will use virgin products as well as utilising and reusing products of which we can recapture the value.”

Interview article by Jonathan Lopez

ICIS will publish the second extract of this interview on 7 March , with Dooley’s opinions about the US-China trade war and the chemicals industry’s desire for less, not more, trade barriers. "It’s too early to declare victory, or certainly to resign yourself to defeat," he said.

Top picture: Devotees bathing in the polluted River Ganges, India
Pictures sources: Ritesh Shukla/Nurphoto/REX/Shutterstock and ACC

Click here to see regulatory targets and a list of chemical and mechanical recyclers on the ICIS Circular Economy topic page