Regulation lags behind ambition for chemical recyclers

Written by: Carlos Monreal | Published:
Plastic Energy founder and CEO Carlos Monreal. Image: Holly Cant

As the mounting scale of pollution from plastic waste reaches ever alarming proportions, chemical recycling processes, turning non-recyclable plastic into reusable fuel, oil and back into plastic, represent a landmark breakthrough in the battle to save the planet’s environment.

On land and sea, the world is in danger of being choked to death by plastic. In the oceans, the equivalent of a truckload of plastic is dumped into the sea every minute - some 8m tonnes every year. It takes hundreds of years to degrade, destroying the environment, killing wildlife and ultimately finding its way into the human food chain, poisoning the food we eat.

We also know that governments are now discovering that as the use of plastics is predicted to double in the next 20 years, landfill and incineration - currently the standard method of waste disposal - is fast becoming untenable.

But the race to introduce the technology that can help provide a solution to the problem of plastic pollution is outpacing the policy and regulation around it. That delay in determining what constitutes a ‘product’ coupled with an unstructured approach to waste collection and recycling means that there are constraints on companies that need the waste to produce a product that can be recycled over and over again.

Chemical recycling responds directly to the way forward emphasised by Andreas Merkl, CEO of Ocean Conservancy, who said: “Waste management can do its job only if waste treatment technologies are significantly improved -landfills and incinerators are rarely a sustainable answer.

“Where technical innovation is concerned, the past is a poor predictor of the future. Significant opportunities exist today to accelerate the commercialization and performance of new technologies, which emphasise principles of circularity - waste reduction, recycling and waste repurpose.”

This forecast was reinforced by the UN’s International Environmental Technology Centre. “These solutions”, said its director Keith Alverson, “which encompass reducing plastic use, recycling and reuse as well as efficient disposal of existing plastic waste — will clean our oceans and deliver multiple social and economic co-benefits.”

Aware of the problem of rapidly diminishing landfill capacity, coupled with the drive to increase materials recovery and to transform waste into value, we decided early on to focus Plastic Energy’s teams on developing a pioneering technology that would turn plastic into reusable fuel – in other words, the alchemy of turning waste into money.

We believe we are the only company in the world actively converting end-of-life plastic into plastic – or plastic2plastic as we call it – as well as hydrocarbon fuels and oils using the circular economy.

Our Technology HQ is in the UK and we have working industrial plants in operation in Almeria and Seville with plans in place to set up a sustainability project in Tenerife.This will be a pioneering project which will provide a reference point for other islands with major waste and power supply problems.

Our ambition to attract investment in plants across the world got a major endorsement when we supported the ‘On Wings of Waste’ (OWOW) flight in Australia. Campaigning pilot Jeremy Rowsell made history by flying his light aircraft more than 500 miles from Sydney to Melbourne using conventional fuel blended with 10% fuel manufactured us from plastic waste.

We have joined WRAP’s UK Plastic Pact and were one of the 250 signatories of the Ellen McArthur Foundation’s Global Commitment to stop plastic pollution at source. We’ve also partnered with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Indonesia in a bid toimprove waste management and reducing marine litter in their waters. The country, after China, is the second largest producer of plastic finding its way to the ocean.

All of these promises are deliverable but we need governments and policy makers to ease the path. We need a more systematic way of collecting and redistributing waste for recycling and, as WRAP advocates, open co-operation between all parties from manufacturers and retailers to waste management companies and recyclers. We owe this to the next generation.

Carlos Monreal is founder and CEO of Plastic Energy.

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