On 1 January 2018, China imposed an import ban on plastic waste. Up to that point, a large share of Europe’s commercial waste was shipped to China for processing. Which consequences will the Chinese import ban on plastic waste have? “The ban forms an opportunity for Europe to embrace the circular economy,” says Ray Georgeson, guestspeaker at the workshop at the Energy in Transition Summit 2018.
Ray Georgeson, representative of the UK Resource Association, offered a brief recap: “China no longer accepts European waste for processing, because this waste often isn’t sorted very well and may contain hazardous substances. As a result, it may put a burden on the environment and pose a threat to public health. Some of this waste is presently finding its way to other Asian countries like Vietnam and Indonesia, but this only constitutes a small share. And there’s a good chance that in the near future, this option will no longer be available either. We shouldn’t see the ban as a problem, but as an opportunity to improve the quality of our packaging and recyclable materials and support their use in our own manufacturing processes. Let’s kick off the discussion by thinking about regulations. Which requirements should our plastic waste satisfy to become suited for re-use? How can we obtain the products we need? Which standards should we set for packaging materials? Which products or raw materials are difficult to recycle and could we perhaps do without? Let’s go for quality, so that we can embrace the circular economy!”
In smallgroups, headed by Ray Georgeson, Vincent Balk (KIDV) and Arjanne Hoogstad (Coca-Cola), some productive discussions were held about new opportunities for companies in and around the port of Rotterdam. “It’s true that the ban presents new opportunities for the circular economy, which the port’s logistics sector can take advantage of,” was one of the conclusions. “Collaboration between multiple parties, like e.g. the Port Authority and manufacturers, is definitely necessary,” says Yvonne van der Laan, Director of Process Industry & Bulk Goods at the Port of Rotterdam Authority. “We are examining with our partners whether we can set up a plastic waste hub in the port of Rotterdam that can play a role in the circular economy. We intend to research how we can improve the quality of our recycling processes even further, so that we can produce new high-grade raw materials and feedstocks, which can be used for materials, chemicals and fuels. The Chinese ban has actually created opportunities for us to utilise plastics in new ways.”
Niek Nieswaag, Head of Business Development at AVR: “Our group reached a unanimous conclusion: the Chinese ban is a structural development and serves as a wake-up call for Europe. Until now, we have actually been exporting our problem. But now the time has come to set up a high-grade recycling process. AVR is currently building a separation plant that can separate plastic and beverage cartons from residual household waste. With this initiative, AVR has made work of its ambition to convert 100% of our residual waste into value. To realise this programme, we have entered into a partnership with Afvalfonds Verpakkingen. The first separation line will become operational in August, and we expect to launch a second line in early 2019. Together with Afvalfonds Verpakkingen, we are also jointly exploring further innovations, including high-grade reprocessing and recycling capacity for plastics after separation. Our main priority in this undertaking is product quality, so that we can contribute to the creation of a demand-driven chain. To this end, we look forward to working together with the Port Authority – in the area of matchmaking, for example. We still have a lot of work to do in the context of the energy transition. But the Summit showed that as it is, there are a lot of projects going on: quite impressive.”
Product with value
Karlijn Peters, Business & Sales Analyst at Oiltanking Europe: “Plastic waste is a global issue. Both personally and professionally, I believe it is important to develop an effective response to this problem. During the workshop, our group mainly focussed on what we in the Netherlands can do as an industry to convert plastic waste into a product that has value. A number of companies have come together at Plant One, the knowledge and test centre set up in Rotterdam’s port area, to jointly research how one could convert plastic waste into an oil product using pyrolysis. Of course, this is a very interesting development for Oiltanking: we in turn could store these products. Our company is examining how we can make our existing business future-proof with new technologies. We are happy to connect with other players in the energy transition in the port of Rotterdam. We enjoy thinking along with companies when it comes to developing new innovations. I thought it was a well-organised summit with inspiring speakers. On top of which, I made a number of valuable new contacts.”
If you would like to know more or exchange thoughts about opportunities in Rotterdam, feel free to contact us.