Plastics Getting More Fantastic: Recent Actions of Polyolefins Producers for the Circularity of Polyolefins

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Plastics are fantastic materials. If you don’t agree check this out from BBC. Need more (scientific)? Check this recent white paper from Imperial College London, UK which might help in understanding that plastics are part of the solution, not the problem. Having said that, it is also important to mention that there is no dispute over the problems created by the mismanagement of plastics and some inherent characteristics of plastics. To solve the problems/challenges posed by the plastics and the waste plastics, numerous companies are working together and with other research institutes and universities to develop different economically and environmentally viable solutions. 

Step by step we are moving towards the circular economy of plastics (i.e., plastics are becoming more fantastic).  

Since polyolefins (i.e., different grades of polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP)) are the biggest part of plastic waste around the world, we decided to look into how different polyolefin producers are tackling this issue. In the coming sections, we present some highlights from the recent press releases of 5 leading polyolefin producers related to the actions taken (or the investments made) by these companies in making polyolefins more circular. The intention is to show that plastic producers are investing heavily in making plastics more fantastic.  

Borealis Group & Circularity of Polyolefins

Being a leader in producing variety of fantastic polyolefin grades, Borealis Group has included Circular Economy of Polyolefins in its sustainability strategy. The focus areas of Borealis’ Sustainability Strategy include Circular Economy, Energy & Climate and Health & Safety. Chemical recycling of the waste plastics (where pyrolysis is one method) is also among the focus areas of Borealis’ Sustainability Strategy.

Reference activities of this company include (but are not limited to):

  • Participation in Stop Ocean Plastic.
  • Acquisition of recycling companies (mtm plastics and Ecoplast) to accelerate the efforts put in circularity of polyolefins. These acquisitions have most probably helped Borealis in increasing its material recycling rate. In addition, this indicates the intention of Borealis to become a leader in mechanical recycling technology.
  • Launching of different PE & PP grades which are either composed (partially) of post-consumer recycled polyolefin or can be recycled fully.
  • Borealis has joined the New Plastics Economy project led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. In fact, Borealis was the first leading plastics manufacturer to join this project.
  • Borealis is also participating in CEFLEX- a collaborative project aimed at enhancing the circularity of flexible packaging.
  • Borealis is chairing the Polyolefin Circular Economy Platform (PECP). PECP is helping in increasing the recycling of polyolefins inside Europe. It is also working to ensure that the European market gets a reliable supply of high quality recycled plastics.

SABIC & Circularity of Polyolefins

SABIC is also among the leading polyolefins manufacturers. A program called TRUCIRCLE is introduced by SABIC to focus on circular economy related solutions. Both mechanical and chemical recycling of waste polyolefins are among the four focus areas in TRUCIRCLE. The other two focus areas include development of polymers which increase the recyclability of the products made with them and the use of resin and chemicals made from bio-based feedstocks that are not in competition with food chain.

Reference activities of SABIC include (but are not limited to):

  • In partnership with a company named PLASTIC ENERGY, SABIC is using pyrolysis oil as a feedstock. PLASTIC ENERGY has a patented technology to produce naphtha and diesel from the waste polyolefins like low and high density polyethylene & polypropylene. Waste polystyrene can also be used in this process.
  • SABIC has also been working with other brand owners like Unilever, Vinventions, and Walki Group to use and promote their circular solutions. Unilever is already using the certified circular polymers supplied by SABIC for the production of fully recyclable ice cream tubs.
  • Tupperware is selling straw and tumbler made from circular grades of polypropylene supplied by SABIC. It appears that SABIC is using the pyrolysis oil supplied by PLASTIC ENERGY for the production of monomers of polyolefins.
  • SABIC is also supplying high quality circular polyolefins to companies like Avoury (a tea company), Walki Group (packaging producer) and SIG (aseptic packaging producer).
  • SABIC is a member of Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW) and has also chaired the World Plastic Council from 2014 to 2018.
  • SABIC has installed a new (waste plastics) pyrolysis plant at Geleen, The Netherlands. This plant is expected to be operational by 2021. SABIC is expecting to process 200 kilo tonnes of recycled plastics by 2025 in Europe.

LyondellBasell & Circularity of Polyolefins

LyondellBasell (LB) is the largest producers of the PP compounds and biggest licensor of the polyolefins production technologies. It is one of the largest refining, plastics and chemicals companies. Just like other polyolefins (and polymer) producers, LB is also investing in circular solutions. Based upon the 2018’s sustainability communication from LB, following reference activities were noted.

Reference activities of LyondellBasell include (but are not limited to):

  • With respect to mechanical recycling of waste polyolefins, LB has invested in a Dutch company named Quality Circular Polymers (QCP) in partnership with SUEZ. QCP is using post-consumer packaging waste and producing high density polyethylene (HDPE) and polypropylene (PP) resins. These high quality grades are marketed by LB. This investment from LB was done in March, 2018.
  • With respect to chemical recycling of waste plastics, LB believes that this solution seems to be more attractive in achieving a true circular solution for waste plastics. LB has set up a collaboration with Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Germany to develop a new catalyst and process which can convert the waste plastics back into their monomers. These monomers can be polymerized again to produce a virgin polymer. The target of this collaboration is to get a chemical recycling solution (scalable to a semi-industrial proof-of-concept plant) by 2021.
  • Since 2019, LB has also been offering bio-based PP and LDPE grades made from renewable biomass. Commercial name of these grades is Circulen.
  • LB is also member of AEPW and partner in Operation Clean Sweep. In the Operation Clean Sweep, LB continues to obtain zero pellet loss to the environment.

INEOS & Circularity of Polyolefins

INEOS is a leading polyolefins manufacturer. Recent press release from INEOS shows following reference activities related to circularity of polyolefins.

Reference Activities of INEOS include (but are not limited to):

  • A partnership between Forever Plast SpA, Italy and INEOS has been set up to develop mechanically recycled PE and PP grades. Another partnership with a company named Viridor was also set up to get a range of high-specification polymers with up to 50% or more post-consumer recycled content.
  • INEOS has teamed up with PLASTIC ENERGY to construct a new plant by 2023 for the chemical recycling of waste polyolefins. PLASTIC ENERGY has a patented technology to convert waste plastics into pyrolysis oils. INEOS has produced test virgin polymers using the pyrolysis oil supplied by PLASTIC ENERGY.
  • INEOS has also set up collaborations with three other companies which are providing solutions for chemical recycling of waste plastics. These three companies are GreenMantra, Pyrowave and Agylix. All these companies have their own patented technology. Recovered monomer from waste plastics, by using the technologies of these companies, can be polymerized again using INEOS’ manufacturing infrastructure. Technologies of Agilyx and Pyrowave can depolymerize waste polystyrene into styrene monomer. Using GreenMantra’s technology high quality, synthetic polymers and additives will be produced using waste polystyrene.
  • INEOS is a partner in Operation Clean Sweep. It has taken actions to obtain zero pellet loss.
  • INEOS is also developing a new research facility at its Rossignano site in Italy to develop next generation of reusable plastics. Special PP grades will be developed for use in advanced packaging and electric cars.
  • With respect to the production of bio-based polymers, INEOS is using a residue from the pulp industry. This renewable feedstock is coming from Finland. Production of bio-based plastics from this feedstock has enabled INEOS to reduce its Greenhouse Gas(es) emission(s) associated with that process to about 90%.
  • INEOS has recently announced that it is about to establish a partnership with a UK based company whose patented technology can convert difficult to recycle plastics into a recycled raw material that can be used to produce virgin plastics.
  • Today INEOS is using 325 kilo tonnes of recycled polymer in its products. In addition, it is also offering products with at least 50% recycled content.

Exxon Mobil & Circularity of Polyolefins

Exxon Mobil, being one of the leading polyolefins manufacturers, is also on the forefront of solving the issues related to waste plastics. Following reference activities were noticed in the Exxon Mobil’s 2018 Sustainability Report.

Reference activities of ExxonMobil (EM) include (but are not limited to):

  • For stopping the loss of plastic pellets within the production facilities of EM, it is developing a common global standard. The aim is to implement this standard across all relevant EM’s operations by 2020. In 2018, zero plastic pellet loss to the environment was reported.
  • EM is also member of the Operation Clean Sweep.
  • Vistamaxx performance polymers developed by EM help the converters to use higher amounts of recycled plastics with no loss in the performance. Some other polyethylene grades also help the converters in producing products which reduce materials consumption and waste.
  • EM is also member of non-profit organization named The Recycling Partnership focused at increasing recycling in the United States. $5 million have been committed by EM for helping in the development of sustainable solutions and to support the activities like curbside recycling program.
  • To help increasing the recycling of household flexible plastic packaging (i.e., polyethylene and other flexible films, wraps, bags and pouches), EM has obtained the membership of a non-profit research program called Materials Recovery for the Future. This research program is aiming to use the community municipal recycling system for demonstrating the technical and economic feasibility of recycling household flexible plastic packaging.
  • EM is also a member of AEPW.
  • In 2018, fifty thousand tonnes of waste (unclear if it was plastic waste) were diverted from the world-wide lubricant operations of EM.

From these highlights, it is evident that making plastics circular (i.e., more fantastic) is the top priority of these market leaders. It is important to mention that other polyolefins and plastics producers are taking similar actions to bring circular solutions to the market as soon as possible and keep our land, oceans and the life on them safe & healthy. Since all of these companies have invested in chemical recycling of waste plastics, it can be concluded that chemical recycling of waste plastics is considered as one of the most practical solution for making waste plastics circular. Furthermore, patented technologies of companies like PLASTIC ENERGY, Agylix, GreenMantra etc., clearly show that chemical recycling of waste plastics is possible and being done on a commercial scale.

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