Indorama Planning Massive Investment in Plastic Recycling

Thailand’s Indorama Ventures has announced plans to invest US$1.5 billion in recycling as the environmental impact of single-use plastic becomes increasingly important to consumers and as regulatory pressures mount.

Indorama’s main business is the production of PET resin, used in the manufacture of plastic bottles, fibres and tyres. In the 12 months to June 30th 2019, Indorama produced nearly 5,000 kilotons of PET.

US$1 billion will be invested over the next five years, including greenfield and brownfield mergers and acquisitions focusing on bottle-to-bottle recycling.

Indorama currently has 11 recycling sites around the world, including plants in Thailand, Mexico and France, and aims to step up its green credentials in response to new regulation being introduced by governments and changing expectations from customers.

After 2023, Indorama plans to invest an additional US$500 million by 2025 to help customers achieve then European Commission’s target of incorporating 25% of recycled plastic in PET bottles.

AcuComm’s WasteView projects database includes 187 plastics recycling facilities, of which 23 are in Asia. Click here to view them all.

Focus on clinical waste

Clinical waste is an important niche area of the waste management sector. While volumes are typically small, such waste is often hazardous or unpleasant in nature and needs to be disposed of in a sensitive manner. It’s a job that hospitals typically undertake themselves, but there is growing interest in the provision of such services from specialised third parties.

One such is Tradebe. In September 2019, the company received a draft environmental permit from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency to operate a new clinical waste treatment facility at the Bellshill Healthcare Waste Treatment and Transfer Site in Bellshill, North Lanarkshire. Planning permission was granted in July 2019. The draft permit allows for a capacity exceeding 10 tonnes per day of hazardous waste and 75 tpd of non-hazardous waste. Tradebe expects the plant to be operational in October 2019, to fulfil a 10-year contract with the Scottish Government, valued at £10 million annually.

The Bellshill site will manage clinical waste disposal in Scotland for a range of waste producers. This will primarily involve waste produced by NHS Scotland trusts, but could also include waste arising from private hospitals, pharmacies, care homes, beauticians and veterinary practices. The service will include collecting, transporting, treating and disposing of the clinical wastes. Waste will be collected from medical and research sites. It will comprise of both clinical waste and other wastes produced on these facilities. At the Bellshill site, depending on the waste type, the waste will be either bulked up and sent off-site for incineration or disposal at landfill or treated on-site via a shredder, steam auger and drier, before compaction. This waste treatment process will be supported by natural gas powered boilers to provide heat to generate steam, natural gas burners to provide warm air for the drier (indirect heating), enclosed automatic bin washers and a vehicle wash-down area.

Tradebe Healthcare is one of a small number of dedicated clinical waste management companies. It operates largely in the UK, although the parent company is in Spain. In addition to the Bellshill site, it currently has four other locations in the UK: Avonmouth, Redditch, Wrexham and Rochester. The latter site was expanded in August 2019. The company is also involved in the US market. In November 2018, it announced a new upgrading project at a site in New Jersey run by Norlite, a Tradebe subsidiary. This is expected to be complete early in 2020.

Including those referenced above, AcuComm currently lists 32 active projects dealing exclusively with clinical waste. These are principally located in the USA and UK, although individual examples can be found elsewhere.

clinical-graphSource: AcuComm database September 2019. Click here to view the full dataset.

Clinical waste projects tend to be small-scale in comparison with more general waste projects. The average value of a clinical project in the AcuComm database is around US$13 million, while the annual throughput is an average of 11,600 tonnes per year or around 30 tonnes per day. Many are far smaller than this; for example a facility opened in Oman in 2016 which has capacity of 2.2 tonnes per day.

Incineration is the most common form of disposal, although there are signs of interest in the use of more advanced forms of treatment. AcuComm lists two clinical waste gasification plants, for example, one in the UK and one in the USA. Both were announced in 2018 but neither is currently operational. As ever, the more advanced the technology, the longer and less certain the lead times become.

Focus on France

This week I thought we’d take a look at recent waste industry activity in France. The latest Eurostat data runs to 2016. In that year, just over 304.8 million tonnes of waste was treated in France. The leading category was recycling, which accounted for 199.3 million tonnes, or 65.4% of the total. The proportion sent to landfill is falling slowly, but still amounted to 84.0 million tonnes in 2016, equal to 27.6%. Relatively little use is made of incineration. WtE plants accounted for 16.5 million tonnes in 2016, equal to 5.4% of the total. There is also a small amount of non-WtE incineration, amounting to 5.0 million tonnes in 2016.

france-graph1
Source: Eurostat

Eurostat figures, a few years old as they are, can give an idea of where things were in the past, but shed far less light on the future direction and focus for investment currently in the market. The AcuComm database currently holds 61 waste-related projects in France for the 2013-2019 period. These are worth US$3,318 million, or around US$54 million each on average. Total annual capacity is just over 6.9 million tonnes, equal to 114,074 per project and around 350 tonnes per day per project. Power/heat generation amounts to an estimated 297 MW or 4.9 MW each on average.

The greatest number of projects are for recycling facilities. There are 17 of these, although they tend to be relatively small in size with an average value of US$26 million. There are 15 WtE incineration facilities currently listed, with an average value of US$71 million. These unsurprisingly account for the bulk of the additional power capacity, at 201 MW, equal to 68% of the total.

france-graph2Source: AcuComm database, September 2019. Click here to explore the full dataset online.

Out of the 61 projects, 29 are currently operational, with 17 under way and the remainder in various stages of planning. The map below shows the location of these projects, where known.

france-mapSource: AcuComm database, September 2019

Is Germany burning too much?

Germany has a long way to go to achieve a circular economy, incinerating too much and recycling too little, according to a new study by the Oeko-Institut and Alwast Consulting on behalf of the NABU, one of the country’s oldest and largest environment associations.

Germany currently incinerates 26 million tonnes of waste each year, but this could be reduced to 21 million tonnes if its waste laws were fully implemented, waste consistently separated and recycling quotas met.

The study cites three examples of large gaps in the enforcement of Germany’s waste laws:

Biowaste: Under the Closed Substance Cycle Act, (Kreislaufwirtschaftsgesetz), biowaste must be collected separately in the municipalities, but a failure to achieve this means that instead of being converted into biogas and compost, biowaste is ending up at waste incineration plants instead.

Commercial waste: The commercial waste ordinance (Gewerbeabfallverordnung) stipulates that waste fractions such as metals, wood or plastics must be collected separately. However, due to a lack of on-the-spot checks by law enforcement agencies, only a small proportion of commercial waste is actually collected separately and then recycled, meaning that the majority is simply incinerated. By implementing the law properly it would be possible to divert a further another 1.7 million tonnes of waste away from incineration each year.

Packaging waste: The Packaging Act (Verpackungsgesetz) specifies recycling quotas for various packaging waste – by 2022, 63% of plastic packaging waste must be recycled. However, the study finds that it is unclear whether the legal requirements are being met, with manufacturers unafraid of the consequences of failing to comply.

The study shows that 49 of Germany’s 66 waste incineration plants will be in need of modernisation by 2030, affecting more than 60% of total capacity. It argues that improved recycling and adherence to the existing laws would reduce the requirement for incineration, leading to huge savings through the dismantling of plants rather than their modernisation. “The money would be much better spent, if you put it into an effective waste management infrastructure with more sorting and recycling, more waste advice and measures to reduce the total amount of waste” commented NABU waste specialist Michael Jedelhauser.

AcuComm’s WasteView project database currently covers 29 waste-to-energy and incineration projects in Germany.

Singapore’s Zero Waste Masterplan

In the face of a seven-fold increase over the past 40 years in the amount of waste requiring disposal, which will see the country’s only landfill run out of space by 2035, Singapore has revealed its inaugural Zero Waste Masterplan. The Masterplan maps out Singapore’s key strategies to “build a sustainable, resource-efficient and climate-resilient nation”. This includes adopting a circular economy approach to waste and resource management practices, and shifting towards more sustainable production and consumption.

The Masterplan has set a new waste reduction target for Singapore – to reduce the waste sent to Semakau Landfill each day by 30% by 2030 to extend its lifespan beyond 2035.  This is in addition to existing targets under the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint to increase the overall recycling rate to 70%, non-domestic recycling rate to 81% and domestic recycling rate to 30% by 2030.

Whilst Singapore has decided that sustainability and recycling are fundamental pillars of its waste strategy, it is also committed to increasing its incineration capacity, with a flagship 120 MW waste-to-energy plant currently under development at Tuas.  A consortium comprising Hyflux Ltd and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is developing this US$540 million facility which will dispose of 3,600 tonnes of waste per day and is due to be operational in 2020.

Trash incinerators feel the Bern

August 2019 saw US Senator Bernie Sanders launch his Green New Deal. This is a wide-ranging set of environmental policy proposals which cut across many areas of economic activity. It’s certainly radical, having been costed by the Sanders camp themselves at US$16.3 trillion.

One of those areas is of course the waste management field. The plan calls for the establishment of a nationwide materials recycling programme, in which companies are made responsible for ‘taking back’ materials from products they manufacture, in order that these materials can be recycled. The green energy sector itself should make more use of such recycled materials when constructing infrastructure:

‘To prevent an outsized impact on the environment from harvesting raw materials, we must build the wind turbines, solar panels, new cars, and batteries we need with as many recycled materials as possible.’

The other waste area specifically mentioned in the Green New Deal is waste-to-energy, although only briefly:

To get to our goal of 100 percent sustainable energy, we will not rely on any false solutions like nuclear, geoengineering, carbon capture and sequestration, or trash incinerators. (editor’s bold)

That’s about as briskly dismissive as it’s possible to be, and contrasts sharply with much of Europe or Asia, where waste incineration is seen as not only as the best solution to dealing with waste, but also environmentally sensitive if done correctly. But the Sanders plan dismisses ‘trash incinerators’ as a false solution.

In the wider scheme of things regarding sustainable energy, maybe Sanders is right and maybe he isn’t. Either way it’s a view which is not wholly uncontested within the US. The country has never really embraced waste-to-energy. Incinerators tend to be concentrated in the industrial east and north, and many states and cities make no use of WtE at all.

But here’s an example of an opposing view. Also in August 2019, the US Department of Energy release a new report through its Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. My colleague Ian Taylor made mention of it last week. Entitled Waste-to-Energy from Municipal Solid Wastes’, it explores how greater use might be made of WtE in the US. The report defines WtE as standard incineration, more advanced methods such as gasification, and anaerobic digestion/biogas. The report notes that ‘high operating costs and high-level of competition from alternative sources make the production of heat and power from MSW economically challenging’ (page iv), but that several R&D initiatives could help to improve the efficiency of the sector. These include better sorting of waste, better construction/maintenance to reduce operating costs, new methods of biogas development, greater use of gasification technologies, and more investment in biofuels from, for example, discarded plastics. I’ll look at it in more detail in a future article.

Senator Sanders would, I think, reply that much of the above is neither desirable nor necessary. His focus after all is not on waste management but on a total reshaping of US environmental policy. However, amid the wider environmental clash of ideas, treatment of waste cannot fail to be affected by the broader direction of policy, whichever way it goes. Some form of change is certain; I’ve already discussed in previous articles how exporting of waste to China and elsewhere is dying off, so domestic solutions will need to be found. You can tell a lot about where a person or organisation stands by the language they use… ‘trash incinerator’ is a very different-sounding term to ‘waste-to-energy’.

What chance does the Sanders Green New Deal have of being implemented? On the face of it, very little; there’s a lot of public sector and collectivist proposals in it which are going to be a hard sell to the US electorate. But the Senator deserves to be taken seriously. The very name Green New Deal deliberately refers to the 1930s New Deal under Franklin Roosevelt which controversially (even to this day) but successfully expanded the role of the federal government in the management of the economy. Sanders is certainly to one side of the political debate, but he was a credible candidate for the Democratic nomination in 2016 and was only narrowly defeated by Hillary Clinton. He will be a candidate again in 2020. Who is to say he won’t win and then go on to challenge President Trump for the White House? I don’t think I’d quite put money on a President Sanders just yet, but stranger things have indeed happened.

How will the US improve WtE?

As we know, municipal solid waste is both a potentially valuable resource and a significant disposal problem. In the United States, more than 260 million tons (236 million tonnes) was produced in 2015, equivalent to 4.4 lbs (2kg) per person.

To address the issue, the US Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO), within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), has conducted an assessment of potential research and development (R&D) activities that could improve the economic viability of various municipal solid waste-to-energy (WtE) options.

The report identifies several R&D opportunities for cost-competitive WtE facilities:

  • Applying gasification technologies to sorted MSW to produce a syngas intermediate;
  • Lowering capital costs of next generation anaerobic digestion systems that make high-value products;
  • Converting sorted-MSW to biocrude and derivative fuels;
  • Enhancing techno-economic viability of processes for currently unrecycled plastics.

There is certainly much potential in the US for WtE projects, which are yet to gain much traction. AcuComm’s WasteView database which gives a more up-to-date perspective of the current waste environment, includes details of 231 projects in the US related to the disposal or utilisation of MSW, including 38 WtE facilities.

US and China metals scrap

Wastedive has reported that China is to add an extra 5% tariff to imports of selected metal imports, from December 2019. Included are certain scrap metals such as aluminium and copper. These metals already attract Chinese tariffs of up to 50%. The extra tariff may not be implemented; it forms part of the stand-off between the Chinese and US governments over trade, which may yet be resolved amicably. But even an extra 5% will make such trade in scrap metals less profitable than now.

Copper and aluminium are the two leading scrap metal export categories for US-China trade, so it isn’t hard to see why China has targeted these for additional tariffs. But the trade is already a declining one. The US sent US$6.2 billion worth of scrap copper and aluminium to China in 2011, but by 2018 this had fallen to less than US$1.8 billion. Existing tariffs have played their part in this, alongside a wider and ongoing tightening of China’s rules regarding permissible waste imports.

metal-graph

As we have recently seen with plastics, a major and rapid shift is taking place. Only a few years ago, China was the leading destination for all kinds of waste from around the world, but no longer. As of 2020, the Chinese government has indicated that all solid waste imports will be banned. How this will work in practice is currently unknown, but it is certain that the existing trend will accelerate; alternative means of disposal will have to be found in the US and elsewhere for waste products, whose commodity value is falling due to oversupply.

One option is to find alternative export markets for scrap metals. Another is to develop domestic recycling capacity. This is tricky in a market where the value of the product is falling, but there is plenty of interest in the US in new recycling investment. The AcuComm database currently lists around 54 active metal recycling/processing projects in the US. These are worth around US$1.7 billion and come in various sizes. At the larger end of the scale is a proposed US$80 million scrap aluminium recycling plant in Wisconsin which gained planning permission in January 2019. This is due to begin operations towards the end of 2020. Far smaller in scale is a US$1.2 million investment by Nespresso to aid sorting and recycling of its aluminium coffee capsules in New York City. This is due to be operational by the end of 2019.

us-map