Let's talk online: Extended Producer Responsibility in practice with Manuel Asali
The concept of EPR implies producer responsibility, but this must go hand in hand with involving companies and end-consumers who use the products in question. The benefits of a closed recycling loop that puts plastics back into circulation is a topic which must also be very well communicated to them. Michael will again liaise with Manual Asali to find out how best to put EPR into practice so that it becomes a full-fledged element of the circular economy. During the conversation, the two will touch on topics such as the recycling loop, communication with brands and consumers as well as other stakeholders.
Find out how the idea of Extended Producer Responsibility can best be put into practice.
ML (Michael Londesborough): Two years ago at the Reactions conference in Prague, I met a fascinating gentleman called Manuel Asali. Now Manuel is the vice president of the Nexant energy and chemical advisory, working with the petrochemical industry and he gave a brilliant dissection of the need to reconcile the growing demand for plastics with the circular economy and today we shall be connecting with manuel to discuss EPR - Extended Producer Responsibility in practice. The real life examples.
ML: Manuel, hello and welcome. I want to talk with you about the concept of Extended Producer Responsibility, EPR, and in particular about EPR in practice. So perhaps you could tell me a bit about what real life examples you've seen of EPR in practice.
MA (Manuel Asali): Absolutely, hello Michael again and good to see you. Thank you very much. If we think of of of this sort of spectrum of what EPR could entail, we remember that we said we could have components that can be remanufactured or we could have molecules that can be recovered. So, if we remember that broad spectrum, there are examples along that spectrum. Let me start with a couple of relatively simple ones, but basically, you can understand EPR as recycling. With mechanical recycling, as long as you can close that loop, that's already doing EPR. There's a company called Alpek Polyester, the biggest manufacturer of PET in North America, and they have private schemes where they are linked with big retailers like Walmart and big beverage manufacturers like Coca-Cola and they find ways to bring bottles back. And they recycle them into their bottles, and they're basically making bottles with very high levels of recycling. So that's this example for PET.
ML: And what does that PET bottle recycling process require? Is it requiring new efforts in better communication between producers and consumers? Or new incentives from governments and legislators?
MA: No, it's actually more of a private scheme, which has been done by these companies along their value chain.
ML: So this is a purely voluntary, private initiative?
MA: Exactly. And of course, as you and I know, part of the complexity is in the collection itself. When consumers don't know what to do with it, they throw it away wherever they can. But if we tell them to bring it back to the store, we'll give you little incentive to do so. then it closes the loop and makes the whole recycling process a lot easier.
ML: Fantastic! I'm going to write that down, you tell me another example.
MA: Sure, so along a similar vein, there's a big company here in europe called LyondellBasell, a big producer of polyolefins, and they have a venture called Quality Circular Polymers - QCP - and it is very interesting because LyondellBasell is taking charge of the recycling coming back and they are ensuring that it is sufficiently clean and they can use it for example in food contact. They are already selling material that has different levels of recycling and the interesting thing is that some of the brand owners love this product and they're happy to pay in some cases a premium, because they know that they can put that stamp on their shampoo bottle for example that says ”guaranteed certain amount of recycling.”
ML: So recycled plastics are in fact becoming a premium material, where people are willing to pay that a little bit more because they know that it's gone into the loop.
MA: Exactly right, and the manufacturer guarantees that the recycling is clean and sufficiently good to be able to sell it with their brand.
ML: So that's evidence that environmental value has a monetary value. There's actually a premium there, there is a market for that recycling product.
MA: Indeed, yes.
ML: How does that balance with the fact that if you keep on recycling, then the material will eventually have certain deficiencies? So is there a limit to this?
MA: There is, and that's why obviously you can use a 100% recyclate, but that will not give you the needed properties. so normally you’ll find different percentages of recycling within the different grades that they sell. Some grades may allow a little bit more recycling, others may allow less, but even if you're buying a product that says guaranteed five percent or 10% recycled, that already may have a perceptual value.
ML: How difficult is the communication between the plastic producers with the companies who are producing, whether it be bottles or shampoo containers or whatever it might be, what's that communication like? Because it has to go from a plastic producer at the petrochemical level, through to the companies who are producing packaging or bottles, then to the consumer. Then there has to be the consumer returning the packaging and bottles, and then back to the producer. So how is this mediated?
MA: Well, remember it's not necessarily the consumer who brings it back. It may be one of these Producer Recycling Organizations that can be in the middle or a waste management company. But regardless of that, yes, there has to be communication between the producer and the brand owner just to ensure that the brand owner needs it and wants it enough for the producer to make it.
ML: Right, okay. Are we a significant amount of recycled polymers into the polymer stream?
MA: It's not a very large amount. This has only started in the last couple of years and it's growing. We do see it growing, which is an important indication. But let me give you a different example, Michael, because there are other ways in which we can think of this too. We could also recycle the molecules as raw materials, as heat stock…
ML: Well, you mentioned that and I've got an exciting example of that for you. Here in Central Europe, in the Czech Republic, the major petrochemical company is ORLEN Unipetrol, and they've got a fantastic project called PYREKOL, where they're actually recycling plastics back to the raw materials, back to the molecules as it were, using the technique of pyrolysis. So they're they're heating the waste plastic at temperatures and in the absence of air, such that you actually regenerate the initial molecules which are used in new virgin polymer material production. So that's the idea and the concept is to have a wide net, so project PYREKOL is going to look to work with not just people and companies and waste in the Czech Republic, but further afield all the way through Central Europe and it's gonna aim to bring all that waste material to one spot and then use the pyrolysis to make significant quantities of new plastic. Which I think is a great idea.
MA: Absolutely yes, because that pyro-oil will not be very different to nafta. You still need to do some extra things to it, you need to hydrogenate it and and tweak it a little bit, but indeed yes, you can feed it with naphtha into a cracker.
ML: So Manuel, it seems that pyrolysis of plastic waste is a very efficient way for petrochemical companies to adopt EPR. What do you see as a future prognosis of this? What are the issues that still have to be resolved? How can we make this even better?
MA: Well, it's a great idea, because it really closes the loop in many ways and the advantage is that you are making virgin plastic. You're not recycling mechanically, which, as we know can, lower the quality of the material. I would argue there are probably two groups of challenges. One of them is the quality of the waste coming in. If you're gathering waste from different areas, that waste is not constant. It may change over time - you may have more or less amounts of organics, you need to clean it, you need to make sure that it's in the right place before you can feed it into the pyrolysis unit. So that's one challenge. The second challenge is that you cannot completely substitute nafta. I want to make it very clear - you can only add a couple of percentage points. I don't know if it's a couple, but it's certainly not a big number. From what I know, the people who are doing this in practice are adding somewhere around five percent. I know they want to grow it and I think that's the main trend. We're going to try to add as much as possible, but if you add too much, you could have problems in the furnaces in the cracker.
ML: I see, so it's about mixing up the synthetic nafta with the natural resources and then working on new technologies that allow us to increase the amount of recycled input into that whole process.
MA: Yes, correct.
ML: Well it's great to know there's a lot of opportunity still for scientists and developers in that area. Manuel, we've been talking about EPR in practice and you've given us some wonderful examples of what is actually happening now. Let's look a bit into the future. If I hand you a crystal ball, where do you see the trends going, where in the petrochemical industry can we expect to see further implementation of the EPR philosophy?
MA: I think that the main change in perception is that we are finding there's a lot of value in waste. We just need to be able to use it better.
ML: So value in waste - that's going to be driving everything going to the future.
MA: Yes, indeed and I think that's where a lot of the work has to be done. The more professional we become with managing that waste, the more we’ll be able to get recycled products for mechanical use, raw materials, and energy. You can produce power from waste - the more sophisticated waste management companies are doing all of that.
ML: Tell me very briefly, where do we need to up our game? Where do petrochemical companies need to up their game? What can we focus on to make more use of all this opportunity?
MA: The first thing we need to do is to cooperate more with governments and with brand owners and OEMs and that information flow has to reach the consumers. The more we communicate, the more we'll be able to find those opportunities and take that value out of that waste and bring it back to different parts of the loop.
ML: So, communication, communication, communication. Manuel, thank you very much for the communication with me. All the best.
MA: Thank you, very much. Bye