Circular Economy

Our waste is valuable: how one company is creating a circular economy for plastics

Just 9% of global plastics waste is recycled.

Just 9% of global plastics waste is recycled. Image: Unsplash/Tanvi Sharma

Emmanuel Ladent
Chief Executive Officer, Carbios
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  • Just 9% of the world's plastics waste is recycled, yet plastics have a wide range of applications – from packaging to cars and textiles.
  • Making plastics part of the circular economy will be vital to worldwide efforts aimed at tackling climate change.
  • Carbios has developed a PET plastics biorecycling plant that enables the material to be recycled into a raw material.

During the recent Davos meeting, the world’s most powerful economic and political leaders gathered once again in the famous Swiss resort to discuss the planet’s most pressing future issues. In addition to economic matters, the World Economic Forum's (WEF) agenda especially focused on bringing up solutions to tackle climate change.

The theme is one particularly close to my heart, as the warning signs about the impact of global warming are multiplying. This is supported by the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which said that we only had three more years to take actions if we want to preserve a liveable world.

World's first PET plastics biorecycling plant

At Carbios, we are driven by the conviction that there are innovative solutions to the climate crisis. We've been working on our own for almost 10 years, and they’re now becoming a reality with the development of the world's first PET bio-recycling plant.

Our innovations make it feasible to biologically recycle polyethlylene terephthalate (PET)-based polymers practically endlessly, thanks to the breakthrough processes developed by our scientists.

From now on, plastic waste can become a raw material and be used over and over, with the same quality. Thanks to Carbios, plastics can be part of a circular economy.

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Another innovation enables polylactic acid (PLA), which is a bio-based plastic, to be fully biodegraded in compost without leaving any residue or toxicity. This means waste may now be used as a valuable raw resource thanks to our two complementary technologies. The industry is becoming circular; it’s becoming a reality.

Plastic circularity's future will be biological. It will drastically cut our reliance on fossil fuels.

Plastics industry key in tackling climate change

The plastics industry looks to be a strategic player in the fight against climate change, with just 9% of global plastic waste recycled. According to experts, plastics – which represent about 4% of oil consumption – have very diverse applications and are used in particular in packaging, construction, automobiles, electrical and electronic appliances, and textiles.

It is a complex industry, characterized by a wide variety of resins or polymers. Alongside PET, there’s also polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and each of these resins requires a specific recycling channel.

Plastic waste generated worldwide is estimated to be 353 million tonnes. However, only a third of this deposit is collected for recycling.

Ultimately, between 250,000 and 300,000 tonnes are finally incorporated back into the production cycle in France, which represents only 6% of the country’s plastics production.

The most virtuous sectors are packaging with PET, mainly plastic bottles, and other sectors are getting organized. According to French environment and energy management agency ADEME, energy recovery from waste represents the third main source of renewable electricity production, after hydropower and wind power.

In 2018, the energy produced from waste saved 1.6 billion litres of fuel oil in France. The recycling and recovery of materials in the broad sense play an essential role as a means of fighting the environmental impacts linked to the production and disposal of waste, and for the sustainable management of natural resources.

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How is the World Economic Forum fighting the climate crisis?

Both also limit greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption related to industrial production. Thus, composting, methanization, recycling of solid recovered fuels (SRC) – non-hazardous waste – are all alternatives to fossil fuels. Our modern societies understand that our waste is valuable.

As a result, it appears that our biorecycling and biodegradation methods enable us to recover plastic rubbish – coloured, opaque, food trays, as well as textiles – that has otherwise little or no value.

It is now conceivable to minimize our reliance on hydrocarbons – a huge environmental, strategic, and geopolitical concern for the future – by permitting plastic waste to become a new precious raw resource.

PET plastic micro particle for recycling
PET plastic micro particle for recycling Image: Carbios

This revolutionary innovation also responds to strong demand from consumers, public authorities and manufacturers who have made ambitious commitments in terms of sustainable development and the eco-design of their packaging. The universal awareness of global warming is changing attitudes and requires similar changes in actions.

Today, our biorecycling technology is recognized internationally, hailed in April 2020 by the scientific community through a cover publication in the prestigious journal, Nature. Carbios has also obtained the 'Efficient Solution' label from the Solar Impulse Foundation.

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What is the World Economic Forum doing about the circular economy?

With Carbios’s solution, we finally found a biological way to reuse plastic waste. From now on, using plastic bottles or plastic food packaging do not need to be an issue anymore, as they can enter the circular economy.

Now more than ever, the circular economy must be set up as a model. All decision-makers in this world must be acutely aware of this. It will take courage, imagination, and above all, innovation to get out of the climate rut. But as long as we encourage research and create a favourable environment for companies like Carbios, we will meet the challenge.

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