It is International Recycling Day. Recycling means that materials are used again without the need to produce more new materials from natural resources. Recycling is part of the circular economy, where after a product can no longer be reused and repaired, the materials can be recycled to make new products. Recycling does not include taking side streams and turning them into products, that is material efficiency improvement.
When we consider the opportunity of recycling, let’s revert back to some thoughts I published a few years back. If we have 400 million tons of plastics and we collect and recycle them diligently, it may be that only about 40-80 million tons of material is lost in the recycling process as energy or otherwise. These 40 million tons could come from natural origin biomass. Looking into the available options, we can state that e.g. 10Mt could come from natural vegetable oils, 10Mt from sugars and starches, 10Mt from lignocellulosics and 10Mt from organic waste, agri- and forest residues. If these 40 million tons are recycled 5 times per year, the amount of original plastics displaced is 240 million tons, ie 60% of the plastics pool and more than the current plastics used in packaging product globally. The 40 million tons of feedstock and conversion to recyclable plastics costs ~$60 billion whereas 240 million tons of fossil naphtha costs over 120 billion. This difference, ~$60 billion, can be used to educate, build collection and recycling infrastructure and bio-based feedstock and plastic production.
Another way to look at it is that if 50% of plastics are recycled 5 times per year with average 80% efficiency, we end up with the supply capacity to serve a plastics market of 950 million tons per year, which will be more than sufficient for a world with 9,5 billion people and a middle-class of 4 billion people.
If half is recycled mechanically or physically and half chemically (depolymerization, pyrolysis, gasification), then 200 million tons virgin plastics are produced, and additionally ~300 million tons chemically recycled plastics and 100 million tons mechanical/physical recycling capacity delivers ~450 million tons of recycled plastics.
Circular bioeconomy represents a major opportunity for anyone involved in the value chain as the raw material is obtained only once, but used several times. Collecting back packaging every two months from consumers, recycling and converting it back to new products requires high level of supply chain efficiency. Also, where ever applicable reuse and repair of products must be considered. Additionally, significant overall reductions in emissions are achievable and the plastics pool becomes a storage for atmospheric carbon.
The bottleneck is funding. Investors and fund managers need to allocate major resources to invest into circular bioeconomy to make this happen. The opportunity needs to be presented in a crystal clear manner, but bearing in mind the above details on the economics, substantial returns are available once circular bioeconomy is in action.
Tomi has 20 years of experience in business development, strategy and business head functions in the chemicals and bioplastics business.
He has set himself a career target of cutting global emissions by 1 Gt and aims at turning the global plastics production bio-based.
He has expertise in bio and circular economy, value chain creation, disruption, materials technology, synthesis, polymerization, sustainability and responsibility, IPR, sales, marketing and strategy.
He holds an MSc (Tech) in chemistry and polymer technology from Helsinki University of Technology (Aalto University). Tomi works as CCO at Woodly and is a board member at Kamupak.
More Articles from Tomi Nyman
- Aiming for Exclusive or Inclusive Life on Earth
- Read my lips: We need more recycling. There is no waste
- Bioplastics and Psychology
The opinions expressed here by Tomi Nyman and other columnists are their own, not those of Bioplasticsnews.com