SCG Chemicals’ efforts to advance the circular economy and reach crucial environmental goals have seen the group search far and wide for partners.
The size and scope of challenges presented by plastics means well-known multinational corporations, startups and even competitors are now working together. Recently, SCG Chemicals and Braskem, a Brazilian petrochemical company and the world’s leading in bio-based polyethylene producer, signed a memorandum of understanding to explore the opportunities of producing sugar-based plastics in Thailand. Two competitors coming together in this manner would have been unlikely ten years ago, but a need to advance the circular economy and reach environmental goals means cooperation is now key.
“The industry is much more global and more mature. We now understand the value of cooperation,” Dr Tine Rørvik, Global Director Circular Economy, SCG and Innovation Director Europe, Chemicals Business, states. “We realise the task in front of us in achieving various goals, including the Paris climate agreement 1.5-degree Celsius target, is large. If we are all working together, we can make a bigger difference.” This is not a one-off agreement. It is part of the company’s strategy to build the leading circular economy network. From being a founding member of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste to locating SMEs who share the same goals, SCG Chemicals knows it does not have all the answers.
“It is important to have an active strategy. You don’t want to suffer from the ‘that’s not invented syndrome’ because it stands in the way of progress,” Dr Rørvik points out. “The circular economy is changing the industry, but you can’t make it circular alone. We need to be out there connecting with partners.” One of the most notable aspects of this strategy is the group’s desire to embrace innovation. It has left its preconceived notions at the door in order to unlock what has the greatest potential to advance the circular economy.
“SCG Chemicals is still young. We want to keep growing and improving. That starts by finding partners who share our mindset and embrace innovation. The size of our partners doesn’t matter as long as they can contribute,” Dr Suracha Udomsak, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of SCG Chemicals, notes. The group’s global presence is also proving to be beneficial as it searches for new partners who can collaborate towards building solutions.
“Having a presence in Norway allows us to both understand global circular economy efforts and locate new innovations,” Dr Rørvik says. “We can have our eyes and ears open across the world. This is a good way for us to speed up our efforts while working together as a society.” However, it is not always as simple as seeing something that works elsewhere in the world and bringing that to Thailand. For example, Norway and many countries in Europe have adopted regulations to build and sustain a circular economy. Importing these overnight isn’t a realistic goal.
“The key here is communication. Not everything can be transferred to Thailand. We look to reach out to stakeholders and talk to everyone so there is a broad-based view of the situation and what can be done,” Dr Suracha details. “Engaging stakeholders and creating partnerships at all levels helps us all build not just technical innovations, but more far-reaching changes. We can come together to see what is working elsewhere and discuss how it can be localised.” This engagement isn’t simply limited to the external partners of SCG Chemicals. Internally, the company strives to keep everyone focused on the task at hand.
“Engagement must happen at all levels, from top to bottom. Both along the value chain and within each company. At SCG Chemicals, all employees are involved in the circular economy efforts. We have a plan to drive things forward,” Dr Rørvik explains. “We have discussed our ambitions, created steps, and then made sure everyone was engaged. It is something they now want to be a part of. That doesn’t happen by accident.”
Realities of Recycling
Several circular economy milestones have been reached over the past two years despite ongoing challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic. While Dr Suracha believes there is momentum behind the movement in Thailand, many people do not fully understand the difficulties recycling presents. “Recycling plastic is not as easy as it sounds. You can’t simply take plastics and turn them into something else,” Dr Rørvik points out. “For starters, not all plastic is the same. Then you need sorting and cleaning to make sure what has been collected is usable. Finally, there has to be enough volume for brands to actually use the recycled plastic.”
This was a strong consideration for SCG Chemicals as it was drawing up its circular economy roadmap. Eventually, four main areas across the value supply chain were identified as key to driving things forward. The first area of emphasis is recyclability design and reducing material use. The group seeks to innovate how plastics can be developed with less material while making them easier to recycle. Next, there is the aim to both extend the life cycle of plastic and create additional value for it. Earlier this year, a collaboration between Unilever and SCG Chemicals was announced that will see the consumer goods company’s plastic packaging bottles recycled into new ones using a high quality, post-consumer recycled resin.
SCG Chemicals’ circular economy roadmap also looks to advance the recycling process. This includes everything from developing recycling technology to supporting initiatives at the grassroots level. “Right now, we are working with partners to develop recycling. It is something we need to develop further, but it can make a big difference,” Dr Suracha says. “But we can improve recycling infrastructure at all levels as long as everyone participates. It’s why we promote the education and demonstration of waste separation.”
The final focus area for SCG is bioplastics or the production of plastic from agricultural materials. It is already exploring the possibility of producing sugar-based plastics in Thailand through its partnership with Braskem. Additional projects are in the pipeline. “We are making strong commitments up and down the value chain. We are actively pursuing all four areas of our circular economy roadmap,” Dr Suracha notes. “Of course, change won’t happen overnight because we generate a lot of waste. Plastic is a part of the modern lifestyle. It has an important role. However, we can continue to innovate how it is made and recycled.”
One common misconception about plastic is that its usage can simply be eliminated altogether. While it is possible to stop using them, this would create other environmental issues. “The issue isn’t plastic itself. The issue is plastic in the wrong places. We understand the problem, but that does not make the challenges we face any less complex. Even if you can find a replacement for plastic, there are unintended consequences,” Dr Rørvik states. “For example, non-plastic food packaging can require more energy to store. That means more energy needs to be produced and if the source isn’t renewable, more CO2 emissions are released.”
Unintended consequences like this arise along the recycling process as well. Transportation, storage, and energy are all factors that need to be considered, especially as more partners and people become involved. “It is important to have a long-term perspective where we look beyond the act of recycling alone. I think a lot of the technology is there when it comes to recycling itself,” Dr Rørvik reports. “But infrastructure and other parts of the process can be improved upon and implemented in all communities around in ASEAN.”
This is why partnerships across the value chain are so important to SCG Chemicals. The company doesn’t have the knowledge, experience, and capabilities required to solve all the challenges and unintended consequences that arise. “Solving circularity requires us all to look everywhere for answers and seeing what works where. It is not a case if SCG Chemicals takes this action, we reduce plastic waste or carbon emission. Everything is interconnected and we must act together,” Dr Rørvik concludes.
- SCG Chemicals signed an MOU with Braskem to explore the opportunities of producing sugar-based plastics in Thailand.
- SCG Chemicals’ circular economy roadmap focuses on four main areas across the value supply chain.
- Unilever and SCG announced a partnership to recycle packaging bottles into new ones using post-consumer recycled resin.
- SCG Chemicals is searching for partnerships across the value chain to help close the circular economy loop.
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