13 September 2018

Conference on Circular Economy

The Circular Economy of Plastics

HMC President Mr. Martyn Tickner was a recent panelist for a two day conference held by the Plastic Industry Club during the 17th ASEAN Federation of Plastic Industries Conference 2018 (AFPI) and 28th ASIA Plastics Forum 2018.

The conference theme was Creating Sustainable Value through Circular Economy.

As Mr. Tickner explained in his comments, the conference topic is particularly relevant for HMC whose PP products deliver daily benefits to millions of consumers, but incorrect disposal (particularly in Asia) is creating a major problem for the global environment of (predominantly plastics) marine litter in the ocean, that must be addressed.

HMC has long been committed to scientifically sound initiatives toward a sustainable future, developing advanced PP grades which deliver reductions in packaging weight and increase product durability and life span. Reduced material and inherently lower packaging weight than competitive materials ensures lower transportation costs. This in turn reduces greenhouse gas emissions from transportation (20% of global greenhouse gas emissions). In addition, the use of PP packaging reduces food spoilage and waste, the next biggest contributor to greenhouse gases, through significantly extended shelf life.

Due to the multi-dimensional nature of waste disposal and collection problems, they cannot be solved in isolation. HMC is engaged in partnerships with industry, government, regulators and the public to promote progress through collaboration and work towards a circular economy for plastics utilizing the essential elements widely accepted as the 4-Rs. Each element is guided by science and is a critical component of an overall solution to this global problem.

  • Reduce - Use less material
  • Reuse - Develop durable products that can be reused for alternative purposes
  • Recycle - PP is 100% recyclable, although due to difficulties in collection, segregation and food contamination, the practical limit to recycle today is about 50%
  • Recover - Remaining materials can be used for energy recovery. Plastics have the same calorific value and lower carbon foot print than burning oil or gas

This approach is built on the reality that plastics are indeed valuable and the circular economy approach leverages the use of valuable resources, minimises waste and focuses towards greener outcomes. This will also support bringing a rapid reduction in marine litter, our most urgent issue to address.

Mr. Tickner and his staff at HMC Polymers firmly believe that these options provide a tangible and realistic solution to the plastics environmental problem whilst allowing consumers worldwide to benefit from their many advantages.

Key messages:

  • We are in a crisis and we need to act now.
  • We need to focus efforts on the most urgent and important problem which is marine litter.
  • This requires collaboration between industry, government and regulators to urgently improve collection and plastic type segregation with appropriate incentives to maximise program adoption.
  • In parallel, we should work to encourage development of a less wasteful, more circular economy based on the 4R’s concepts.
  • And in developing a new solution be careful not to exacerbate the greenhouse gas emissions derived from more than 8.5 billion people on the planet. With greenhouse gas emissions in mind, the alternative adoption of metal, glass, paper, cardboard or even in some cases bio-based and/or bio-degradable plastics may not always be the best answer.
  • It is key to understand that the establishment of a circular economy for plastics will take many years. Mechanical recycling is possible but not so easy, and probably limited to about 50% of plastic waste.
  • Our immediate proposal is:
    - Focus on collection.
    - Establish energy recovery facilities to be able to deal with the waste that is collected.
    - Work progressively to find higher value ways to re-use the plastic waste through recycling (upcycling).
  • Energy recovery has a poor reputation, especially where it is described as “incineration”. But it is established as a pivotal part of the solution in the economies that are successfully dealing with plastic waste including Northern Europe, Japan, USA and Singapore.
    - 1 kg of plastic waste has the same calorific value as 1 kg of oil or gas and 5kg of coal.
    - For countries generating energy through burning oil, coal or gas, it makes sense to also convert waste plastic with the same or lower carbon footprint into energy.
    - Environmentally conscious societies such as those in Scandinavia and the USA delivered clean energy through properly regulated, modern facilities for energy recovery using latest technology.
    - Energy Recovery makes economics sense. For example, Sweden generates 20% of the national energy requirements by burning municipal waste, and imports additional waste from other countries to reduce its dependency on fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas.