Why we should care about circular economy
The worrying fact that natural resources and energy are dwindling from our planet indicates that the world economy may face the risk of shortages of raw materials in the near future. Moreover, pollution caused by manufacturing and consumption has affected the environment. With these pressing issues, the circular economy is now a solution that has caught the attention of international organizations, governments, and corporations. The philosophy of a circular economy is focused on making the most of resources throughout their life cycle, from planning and designing, manufacturing, and consumption, to waste management and reuse, all with the aim of promoting sustainability for the economy, society, and environment.
At Chemicals Business, SCG, one of the largest integrated petrochemical companies in Thailand, we feel that it is our responsibility to be a part of the movement that embraces the circular economy and reduces plastic waste, while giving back to society, to ensure sustainability for future generations. We put a tremendous effort into product development and research programs, to develop materials and innovative business models that support the circular economy. We also work with various organizations in the government and private sectors in Thailand, with the goal of making the circular economy common practice in Thailand.
SCG’s view of the circular economy
Waste minimization assumes complete use and utilization of resources to make finished products, ensuring that as little waste as possible is generated during the life-cycle of the goods. The very first step begins at the product-design stage where (1) through clever design, added strength can be achieved to prolong the lifetime of the product; (2) minimal raw materials are processed and the amount of waste generated is reduced in the manufacturing process to achieve the required design and functionality; and (3) more, if not all, alternative or recycled material—which is more environmentally friendly—is used during manufacturing.
The waste-littering and waste-management flow in the bottom part of Figure 1 involves many stakeholders including households, infrastructure providers, and various other parties. This has proved to be one of the most difficult aspects of the circular economy as well as one of the most critical. Proper sorting is almost a must in waste management; consumers should first sort their waste into appropriate categories. This is the cheapest and simplest way to ensure that the waste collected is of high quality, and that subsequent management of the waste can be done easily whether it is recycled, incinerated, or sanitarily landfilled.
SCG uses innovation to support the circular economy
We have recently introduced to the world, the higher-strength polyethylene (PE) resin breakthrough, SMX TechnologyTM, using internally developed “multimodal” technology. It was created by our formulators and designers resulting in a resin with improved mechanical properties in all aspects compared with existing HDPE. Since our new HDPE has better mechanical properties than existing HDPE, it directly contributes to plastic-waste reduction in two ways:
1. Reduced material use/increased durability When the new HDPE resin is used in place of existing HDPE resin, smaller amounts are required to achieve the same mechanical and chemical properties of finished goods. We have tested the new resin in blow-molding applications and found that it requires 10% less resin to create the finished product, in this case small HDPE bottles, with the same properties as those required by manufacturers.
Upgrade and replacement
When used in conjunction with post-consumer recycled (PCR) resin in certain applications, our researchers have confirmed that the ratio of PCR resin that can be mixed with virgin resin increases significantly. We found that up to 2.5 times more PCR resin can be mixed with our new HDPE resin to create a finished product with the same properties as before.
Lastly, our research and development team is also developing the “CIERRATM” line of performance materials. As we are all aware, mixed materials are difficult to recycle, if not impossible. In the near future, we plan to replace metallized and aluminum material in barrier layers, providing solutions for print and seal layers for mono-materials, which will allow much better recyclability.
2. Leading the way to become a key driving force through collaboration with other parties SCG, as a leading company in Thailand, realizes the importance of developing a circular economy, which is key to achieving the goals of business and of global sustainability. For decades, we have participated in and initiated many programs with the private and public sectors. Some of the highlights of our recent ventures are outlined below.
SCG has been organizing the SD Symposium event since 2010 to promote awareness about the importance of sustainable development in various areas, as well as to encourage more practical solutions that will lead to sustainable growth for businesses, society, and the environment. Last year, we held this global forum in Thailand with the theme of “Circular Economy: The future we create” with more than 1,000 attendees. Participants included leading global companies as well as the government sector, civil
society, SMEs, start-ups, and local communities. The aim of the event was to create awareness and foster understanding of the circular economy, to promote behavioral changes in manufacturing and consumption, and enhance collaboration among businesses, consumers, and the government in driving the nation toward a circular economy. This practice will eventually lead to business sustainability, while also raising the quality of life, and will result in global sustainability for many generations to come.
Additionally, SCG always promotes the building of collaborative networks with many parties in Thailand and beyond, to create complete circular economies. Some recent examples include a technology partnership with Dow Thailand to use recycled plastics as an ingredient in asphalt, helping to reduce ocean and community waste while also enhancing efficiency, as well as reducing carbon emissions from building roads.
To conclude, at SCG we believe that the circular economy will enable us to use sufficient resources to achieve the desired result of creating zero waste in production processes, consumption, and product end-of-life management. This certainly needs collaboration from all sides, and everyone needs to start building awareness to make it happen since it requires a fundamental redesign of business and our end-to-end value chains. The transition will be a monumental task for us all but if we persevere, we will succeed and put the economy back on a path of growth and sustainability.
SCG was established in 1913 following a royal decree from His Majesty King Rama VI to produce cement, the main building material for infrastructure projects that greatly contributed to the progress of the country during that period. Since its founding, SCG has grown continuously and diversified into three core businesses: Cement-Building Materials, Chemicals, and Packaging. SCG employs 55,000 people with more than $15 billion in annual revenue from sales. It collaborates through a global R&D network with 38 universities, 33 research institutions, and 140 industry partners.
The chemicals business is a 100% subsidiary of SCG with revenue accounting for half of the group total. It is one of the largest integrated petrochemical companies in Thailand and a key industry leader in Asia. It manufactures and offers a full portfolio of petrochemical products ranging from upstream production of olefins to downstream production of plastic resins—polyethylene, polypropylene, and polyvinyl chloride—including fabricated products such as film, pipe, and fittings, as well as acrylic sheet. It strives to offer solutions that reflect customers’ needs, by developing innovative and value-added products and services that offer the best quality while using fewer plastic materials, to promote the circular economy.