A circular economy has recently become a subject of interest in many countries across the world. To spark a circular economy movement in organizations across the governmental, private, and public sectors in Thailand, SCG held the SD Symposium in mid-2018 under the concept “Circular Economy: The Future We Create.”
A circular economy is a system that strives to maximize the value of resources throughout their life cycle from production and consumption to recovery. As it has been estimated that the global demand for resources in 2050 will reach 1.3 trillion tons, four times the amount of resources actually existing in the world, a circular economy moves away from the take-make-dispose model of the traditional economy and shifts towards a make-use-return model, which will lead to a balanced business growth, a better quality of life, and a sustainable future.
The Plastic Industry and a Circular Economy
According to a report by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), eight material industries that need to shift towards a circular economy include steel, aluminum, plastic, glass, and wood.
It is beyond any doubt that among these, plastics are especially pervasive as they can be found in both durable goods, such as automotive parts and electrical appliances, and single-use products, such as packaging. Without this material, not only might the demand for the world’s resources be higher, but our lives would also not be as convenient as they are today.
However, recently, the entire world has turned its attention to single-use plastic products, such as plastic bags, bottles, straws, and utensil, as they have a very short useful life but require a long period of time to decompose, especially when coupled with unsystematic post-use management, and have contributed to marine waste and tragic deaths of marine life as regularly shown in the media.
The best and most sustainable solution, it seems, is to apply the notion of circular economy to the business model. However, this will take a systemic change and concerted efforts from every party involved, from manufacturers and entrepreneurs to consumers. The changes that have to be made are as follows:
Make: Minimize resource consumption through product design and innovation.
Use: Maximize the value of products and dispose of them correctly to allow for easy recovery.
Return: Reuse materials for production or other purposes to maximize their useful life.
Chemicals Business, SCG: Contributing to a Circular Economy through Innovation
SCG’s Chemicals Business is playing its part in driving a circular economy by developing technology and innovation that will serve as alternatives for sustainable industrial development. To this end, three major strategies have been adopted.
1) Reduce and Increase Durability: This refers to the reduction of resource consumption in production. Examples include the innovative PE112 Black HDPE Compound and the polypropylene (PP) for the automotive industry.
2) Upgrade and Replace: This refers to replacing existing products or materials with new products or materials that are more efficient, less resource-demanding, and more recyclable. An innovation that supports to this strategy is the new polyethylene resin developed by Chemicals Business, SCG, which can be combined with twice as much recycled plastic.
3) Reuse or Recycle: This strategy involves enhancing the recoverability of materials and products after use. For instance, the functional material CIERRATM enhances the properties of various plastics, allowing them to be used as mono-materials for packaging, as opposed to multi-materials, which resist recycling. Another example is the use of plastic waste from the sea and residential areas to create fish homes to help revitalize marine ecosystems.
Furthermore, SCG has also fostered collaborative networks both in Thailand and overseas. Mostly recently, SCG has initiated a technological collaboration with Dow Group Thailand to mix plastic waste into asphalt. The innovation not only enhances the properties of the paved road but also reduces plastic waste in the sea and communities as well as greenhouse gas emissions in normal road construction. In RIL Industrial Estate in Rayong, a recycled plastic road model has been constructed with plastic waste from the surrounding communities as well as factories of Chemicals Business, SCG.
It Takes Cooperation from All Sectors to Create a Circular Economy.
To bring a circular economy to life, all sectors must join forces. In many countries, the government has included a circular economy in their national policies, while a number of private companies have also applied this new idea to their business model as well as developed new technology that will enable them to create more sustainable products.
However, lying at the center of all this are consumers like us. To turn a circular economy into reality, we need to change our consumption behaviors and stop thinking that it is something irrelevant to our lives. In addition, we need to maximize the useful life of materials, sort waste, and use proper waste disposal methods. This will allow waste to be recovered more efficiently and in turn maintain its usefulness for as long as possible.
Therefore, no matter which sector you’re in, you can play a part in creating a sustainable future and restore a long-lasting balance to the world.
“SCG is working hard to innovate technology that will maximize single-use plastics reuse and recycling. It has also been developing plastic products that are almost 100% recyclable as well as plastics for durable goods, which are still in demand. Our task is to make them strong, lightweight, and durable, so that they can serve as alternatives for natural materials. Most importantly, the materials that we’re developing must go hand in hand with the development of the country and technology.”
Vice President, Polyolefins and Vinyl Business at Chemicals Business, SCG