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

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Jean-Marc Ollagnier, CEO, Accenture in Europe & Jeremy Jurgens, Managing Director, World Economic Forum

  • 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.

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.


How is the World Economic Forum fighting the climate crisis?

Our planet is straining under the burden of a global population of nearly 8 billion people.

The World Economic Forum’s Centre for Nature and Climate accelerates actions on climate change and environmental sustainability, food systems, the circular economy and value chains, and the future of international development.

  • Through the Global Plastic Action Partnership, we are bringing together government, business and civil society to shape a more sustainable world through the eradication of plastic pollution.
  • The centre is championing Nature-Based Solutions. Global companies are working together through the 1t.org initiative to support 1 trillion trees by 2030. Since September 2021, over 30 companies have committed to conserve, restore and grow more than 3.6 billion trees in over 60 countries.
  • Through a partnership with the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry and over 30 global businesses, the Forum is encouraging companies to join the First Movers Coalition and invest in innovative green technologies so they are available for massive scale-up by 2030 to enable net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest.
  • The centre is also bringing leaders together to make commitments to a circular economy approach. Globally, the Scale360° initiative will reduce the environmental impact of value chains within the fashion, food, plastics and electronics industries – a significant step in making the $4.5 trillion circular economy opportunity a reality. The African Circular Economy Alliance is funding circular economy entrepreneurs and circular economy activities in countries including Rwanda, Nigeria and South Africa. In China, the Forum’s Circular Electronics in China project is helping companies reduce and recycle 50% of e-waste by 2025.
  • The Forum is also crowdsourcing solutions to the climate crisis through its open innovation platform, UpLink. Since 2020 this digital space has welcomed over 40,000 users who are working on over 30 challenges including reducing plastic ocean pollution, scaling efforts to conserve, restore and grow 1 trillion trees and innovating the production and processing of aquatic foods.

Contact us for more information on how to get involved.

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.

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.


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

The World Economic Forum has created a series of initiatives to promote circularity.

1. Scale360° Playbook was designed to build lasting ecosystems for the circular economy and help solutions scale.

Its unique hub-based approach – launched this September – is designed to prioritize circular innovation while fostering communities that allow innovators from around the world to share ideas and solutions. Emerging innovators from around the world can connect and work together ideas and solutions through the UpLink, the Forum’s open innovation platform.

Discover how the Scale360° Playbook can drive circular innovation in your community.

Connect to Learn More →

2. A new Circular Cars Initiative (CCI) embodies an ambition for a more circular automotive industry. It represents a coalition of more than 60 automakers, suppliers, research institutions, NGOs and international organizations committed to realizing this near-term ambition.

CCI has recently released a new series of circularity “roadmaps”, developed in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), McKinsey & Co. and Accenture Strategy. These reports explain the specifics of this new circular transition.

Connect to Learn More

3. The World Economic Forum’s Accelerating Digital Traceability for Sustainable Production initiative brings together manufacturers, suppliers, consumers and regulators to jointly establish solutions and provide a supporting ecosystem to increase supply chain visibility and accelerate sustainability and circularity across manufacturing and production sectors.

Connect to Learn More →

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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