Innovation and collaboration are vital for the success of plastics in the circular economy

As reported by edie, the European Commission unveiled its new Circular Economy Action Plan in March this year. The new plan outlined a sweeping set of commitments aimed at ensuring that circularity and resource efficiency act as a "prerequisite for climate neutrality" in line with the European Green Deal and Industrial Strategy.

Innovation and collaboration are vital for the success of plastics in the circular economy

We welcome, at SABIC, the EU’s ambition with the Plan, as it aligns with our goals to transform the way products are made, provide consumers with sustainable solutions that address product performance needs, and address global environmental challenges.

Delivering these circular solutions is not only good for the environment but also for business and strengthening collaboration across the value chain. At SABIC, our sustainability vision is based on our wider understanding of economic, social and environmental factors. It sits at the heart of our process, product, and application innovation to support the development of effective solutions to some of the world’s greatest sustainability challenges, including carbon emissions, single-use plastics and recyclability.

The role of the Chemicals industry

The Plan focuses on key sectors for the chemical industry, including packaging and plastics, given their high potential for circularity. This focus is not surprising given that the chemical industry and its customers are facing increased concerns around the sustainability and circularity of their products. Inefficiencies across the circular value chain are driving consumers and governmental bodies to take action by changing preferences or policies, as the Plan demonstrates, often toward solutions that create additional challenges.

The focus on these sectors is compounded by ongoing global trends. Our growing population and the increase in urbanisation will continue to place constraints on key resources and fuel even greater demand for chemical products and goods like plastics that cater to better living standards. These global trends will also inspire the need for products that promote greater resource and energy efficiency versus alternative materials and solutions. Consequently, the challenge for the chemical industry and our partners is twofold – ensuring we help provide key resources for a growing, middle-class population, while doing so in a sustainable manner.

However, challenges are not without opportunities – and this is true as we transition from a linear to a circular economy. As this evolution takes place, it represents a systematic shift in the way the chemicals industry conducts business by building long-term resilience, generating greater business and economic opportunities, and providing environmental and societal benefits.

Innovation and collaboration

A key learning has been the need to innovate, and create solutions, that not only achieve the crucial aims of the circular economy, but also deliver viable business and economic solutions as well. In order to do so, innovation has been essential to push the boundaries of what in the past had not seemed achievable.

SABIC has committed to scaling up the chemical recycling of plastic waste back to the original polymer. By doing this, we are offering customers an important option to help address ambitious recycling targets and plastics end of use challenges more broadly.

We are working with our customers, and the broader value chain, to implement new enabling process, product, and application innovations, and drive the necessary collaborations and new business models, including closed-loop recycling partnerships, to enable successful outcomes. Only through innovation and collaboration across the value chain can we realize our ambitions and deliver circular solutions to the market that respond to the challenging economic, social, and environmental needs of society.

This is why in January we chose the World Economic Forum in Davos as a platform to reveal to global audiences our 2020 plans for our TRUCIRCLE initiative. These solutions drive us forward in closing the loop on plastic recycling and in seeing post-consumer plastic waste collected, recycled and used to make new products. This process required us as a manufacturer to pivot and develop an innovative process that can help our customers reclaim materials from waste streams, recycle them and create new products, thereby supporting the aims of the circular economy.

For this vision to be successful, consumers, retailers, recyclers and manufacturers must work together to reclaim valuable materials from our waste stream and process them to make new products. This process requires a total transformation of the value chain, which SABIC has been working hard with its partners downstream and upstream to achieve.

The chemical industry has always managed to evolve in the face of a rapidly changing environment through innovation and business adaption, and this capability will help us capitalise on these long-term demand drivers. The industry recognises that its products are essential to achieving greater resource efficiency, which is why we have partnered across value chains and sectors to actively provide solutions to achieve circularity. Forming win-win partnerships is an important strategic lever to grow amid these structural challenges while maintaining focus. 

Such partnerships among the major chemicals players and the value chain have consistently helped the industry in developing robust business models and generating consistent returns. Their success is built upon strategic intent, transparency, shared values, proven capabilities of partners, and, the most important factor, trust. To realise the ambitions set forth for the circular economy, the chemical industry must continue to leverage these key, global partnerships to support growth and competitiveness.

The plastic end-of-use challenge, and the environmental impact it poses are a global issue. However, we foresee even greater benefits in the coming years as our industry collaboration and investments in sustainable materials, processes and operations accelerate our path toward supporting a more sustainable future.

This is why we are urging greater collaboration between manufacturers, customers, all players along the value chain and consumers as we seek to achieve the aims we have set ourselves, and turn our environmental aspirations into a working, long-term reality.

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