Use waste plastics as chems feedstocks to drive circular economy - ACC

22 June 2018 13:00 Source:ICIS News

LONDON (ICIS)--Utilising waste plastics as feedstocks for the production of chemicals should be part of strategies to better deal with waste management, according to the American Chemistry Council’s vice president of plastics.

Finding new uses for plastic waste as feedstocks would help to create a truly circular economy, where petrochemicals firms produce polymer products and then utilise them once they have been used as a means of creating more, according to the ACC vice president Steve Russell.

The issue of feedstock pricing is crucial in petrochemicals production and development of the bioplastics sector has been slower than expected, but the issue of waste plastic in the form of pollution, microplastics and ocean waste have become increasingly prominent in the popular consciousness throughout 2018.

“As with any commodity, recycled materials compete in the marketplace against virgin materials and there will be times when different types of products succeed where others don't, and the key will be finding materials that can be consistently sourced from competitive feedstocks,” he said.

China’s decision to restrict waste plastic imports from overseas has had a dramatic impact on on western economies, where the country in some cases soaked up the majority of end-of-life consumer polymers.

Policy is already spurring the development of new bioplastics markets, with Italy-headquartered start-up Bio-on announcing this week that its new production facility will produce bio-based microbeads for cosmetics after widespread bans of fossil fuel-derived versions.

Ocean waste has also been a policy driver in the west, but with recent research indicating that the bulk of waste filtering into the ocean comes from developing world, with 55% travelling along the Yangtze River, China, according to a recent study by the Helmholtz-Centre for Environmental Research.

A solution to this would be for western firms to provide more of a market for recycled plastic materials, soaking up materials that would otherwise have been dumped, according to advocacy group Oceans Conservancy.

The key issue in developing country waste proliferation is a disconnect between the pace of economic growth and that of waste infrastructure, meaning that consumer purchasing outpaces the roll-out of systems to deal with the additional waste created.

The average amount of consumer waste created by the citizen of a western country remains four times that of a citizen of China or India, according to Australia’s National Toxics Network, but the systems to deal with that waste are not adequate to cope with it.

As smaller economies in Asia and Africa continue to develop, the trend of growing prosperity and purchasing power running ahead of government response to increased waste will continue to lag behind in each country to reach that point, Russell said.

The development of better waste management technology that can be rolled out country to country is paramount to dealing with the issue, he added.

“[The issue] isn’t specific to those countries,” Russell said. “The larger point is that there are countries where there is a gap that hasn't been closed quickly enough between access to consumer goods and access to waste management. Tomorrow, it will be elsewhere.”

“So the point is to make sure that we are more quickly matching access to consumer goods with access to systems for managing those goods post-use,” he added.

Interview article by Tom Brown

Picture source: ACC

Clarification: Re-casts paragraphs 2 and 3

By Tom Brown