Sector News

Dow Chemical CEO: Valuing plastic waste as growth opportunity is solution to marine debris crisis

January 11, 2019
Chemical Value Chain

Solving the global problem of plastic waste in oceans will require “new thinking, new partners, and open collaboration,” and the best, long-term solution will be a supply chain that values plastic waste as a feedstock, according to Jim Fitterling, CEO of Dow Chemical.

In an article ahead of the World Economic Forum, which will run 22-25 January in Davos, Switzerland, Fitterling calls on all members of the supply chain to address the issue. “We must do a better job of capturing and reusing our plastics waste,” Fitterling writes. “The use of plastics—especially in some developing countries—has outgrown current recycling capabilities… Better land-based waste collection and management practices in the most polluted regions would help stop the flow of trash into waterways.”

The Ocean Conservancy estimates that as much as 150 million metric tons of plastics are circulating in our oceans currently, and another 8 million metric tons are added annually. This waste threatens aquatic life, the food supply of nearly 1 billion people globally who depend on seafood as their primary protein source, and the livelihood of countless others in the fishing industry.

Fitterling notes that Dow supports a collaborative model to attract the institutional investment needed to “scale integrated, profitable, and sustainable recycling and waste management projects.” These investments must not only provide a solution to marine debris, but also offer an attractive financial return to investors, he adds.

Dow and its partners, which include NGOs, governments, and brand owners, see an opportunity to reduce total global plastics leakage by 45% by 2025 with “an aggressive set of integrated and targeted waste management investments.” Dow recently announced a $100-million collaboration with PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, Danone, Unilever, Coca-Cola, and other consumer brands to fund Circulate Capital, an investment firm created by the co-founder of Close Loop Partners to develop and finance systems in Southeast Asia, to prevent plastic waste from entering the oceans.

“The best opportunity we have to truly tackle this problem in the long-term is by applying the principles of a circular economy that values plastics waste for what it is: an opportunity for additional growth,” Fitterling says. “By circulating plastics back into the manufacturing stream and reusing them in new applications, we can create a more sustainable and valuable recycling model. Our goal is to seed solutions-based entrepreneurs who can demonstrate the tremendous value-add of plastics—and ultimately to attract institutional investors to scale in a way that offers immense benefits to the environment as well as attractive financial returns.”

Dow and others must “lead the way” in helping to innovate technologies that make it easier to recycle plastics into new products, he adds. Commitments from government agencies, NGOs, and industry to help fund the necessary capital investments, as well as consumer education, are also required.

“We must step forward—collaboratively—to find new answers, to innovate new solutions and create new value systems that end plastics waste forever,” Fitterling concludes.

By Rebecca Coons

Source: Chemical Week

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