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Here’s a tearful reality test of why we need to improve our games and rethink our consumer habits. The global economy only recovers about 10 per cent of its resources. Yes, 10%. In addition, according to the accelerated cycle economy platform (PACE) and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, about half of global GHG emissions come from the production of new everyday commodities, assets and land use practices. The International Energy Agency (IEA) recently reported that the chemical industry is the third largest industrial carbon dioxide emitter after steel and cement, accounting for about 4 per cent of the total global direct emissions.

What has boosted the interest of the chemical industry in the recycling economy?

But there is also some good news here. The comprehensive effect of these factors on the demand of chemical suppliers for differentiation, the appeal of consumers for sustainable environmental protection practices, and the supervision pressure of waste and emission reduction means that the cycle of chemical industry is beginning to form.

At the macro level, international, regional and local sustainable development initiatives, such as zero landfill /3r, expanded producer responsibility (EPR) and carbon pricing, are encouraging countries and businesses to change their status quo. In 2018, the EU launched its first regional policy framework, namely “plastic EU strategy in the circular economy”. The framework uses a material specific life cycle approach to integrate cycle design, use, reuse and recycling into the plastic value chain. Over the past decade, at least 10 European and Asia Pacific countries, including China, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan and New Zealand, have developed preparatory plans, including indicators, road maps and national strategies, to transition to and ultimately implement the principles of the circular economy. Innovators are also using other energy and environmental policies, such as the US low carbon fuel standards, to indirectly support similar goals.

The use of cyclical business reasons in the chemical industry has also become increasingly convincing due to changes in consumer demand, as well as in major downstream markets, including utilities, transport, textiles and clothing, electronics, clean products, food and agriculture, cosmetics and beauty. Many chemical suppliers use sustainable materials and chemicals while improving performance and design closed-loop recycling to reduce waste and carbon footprint. In addition to efforts to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (sdgs), some chemical majors also work with downstream customers, universities and start-ups to design and implement product and circular economy business models. What are the objectives of these cooperation? Decoupling growth from resource use and emissions, reducing resource inefficiency and improving profit margins throughout the product life cycle.

From the perspective of many chemical suppliers, the cost of implementing the cycle principle over the whole value chain exceeds the short-term benefits. Compliance with laws, regulations and requirements related to the circular economy – many of which require the reform of production processes and supply chains – will impose a huge financial burden on chemical suppliers with low profits. In addition, the deployment of deep cycle interventions relies on the acquisition of cost-effective sustainable energy and renewable / recyclable raw materials of the appropriate specifications. It also depends on the availability of the appropriate recovery and emissions capture infrastructure. More complex is the increasing complexity of the combination of materials and substances, coupled with the mix and pollution generated by the products trading on the market, making tracking, collection, separation and reuse difficult. Even after the acquisition, matching the available sustainable / recycled raw materials to the scale of the relevant applications increases another layer of complexity. While several chemical companies have clearly incorporated the recycling initiative into their sustainable development strategies and operations and joined global initiatives to promote closed-loop recycling of plastics, such as the end of the plastic waste coalition, more work needs to be done at the policy and legislative levels to stimulate the expansion of recycling principles in the material and chemical value chain.

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