By Ellen Proper
Aug 29, 2019
Dow Inc. is partnering with the Dutch developer of a method for turning plastic trash back into oil as the global chemical powerhouse seeks to expand recycling amid rising alarm over pollution.
Fuenix Ecogy Group has created a method for breaking down plastic into a form that can be used in a fresh round of manufacturing. Dow plans to implement the process at its plant in Terneuzen, the Netherlands, and make it a recycling mainstay, the companies said Thursday.
Chemical companies are under pressure to address plastic waste that clogs oceans, damaging wildlife and ecosystems around the world. Manufacturers and consumer brands are trying to head off a backlash that’s already eroding demand.
Retail and consumer giants including Unilever NV and Walmart Inc. have committed to increase use of recycled plastics, creating an estimated $120 billion market in Canada and the U.S. alone. A lack of cost-effective technology has been one of the biggest obstacles.
At least 60 companies are working on solutions and need investment to scale up more quickly, according to a report by Closed Loop Partners, an investment firm focused on cutting waste in the economy. The vast majority of the plastic sent out into the world is never recovered, and nearly 90% of such waste ends up in landfills, incinerators, rivers and oceans. Only about 6% of plastics used in the U.S. and Canada are available for recycling, according to the report.
Fuenix’s technology is a more flexible solution than traditional mechanical recycling, which reuses plastic for a limited range of applications, according to Dow, one of the worlds’ biggest manufacturers. The product of the process, called pyrolysis oil, is appropriate for making food packaging and medical products that normally require freshly mined hydrocarbons such as crude oil.
“You can’t see the difference,” said Carsten Larsen, Dow’s director of recycling in Asia and Europe, in an interview. “The plastics that we make from the pyrolysis oil and the crude oil are the same.”
Fuenix, which developed the technology over the past seven years, is focusing on recovering plastics that can’t otherwise be reused or recycled. Most companies with similar processes convert plastic waste into fuel, Chief Executive Officer Sirt Mellema said in an interview.
The partnership will help Dow use at least 100,000 tons of recycled plastic to make products sold in the European Union by 2025, the company said in a release. The EU is moving to ban single-use plastics, such as plates, cutlery and straws as early as 2021 in a bid to reduce ocean waste.
The technology offers a 65% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions compared with methods such as incinerating waste with energy recovery, Fuenix said, and it’s seeking additional partnerships to expand.
The approach has the potential to address a broad market and compete with petroleum products, “something that the vast majority of mechanically recycled plastics cannot do,” said Maarten Bakker, a professor of resources and recycling at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.
“It’s a promising technology for certain waste streams that cannot now be processed mechanically,” he said.