SK Geo Centric breaks ground on the world’s first integrated waste plastic recycling complex in Ulsan, opening a new chapter for South Korea’s circular economy. This world’s first factory is expected to enhance South Korea’s capabilities in tackling domestic environmental issues related to plastics and boost competitiveness in the plastic recycling sector, a future cash cow sector.
On November 15, SK Geo Centric announced that the company held a groundbreaking ceremony for the world’s first integrated waste plastic recycling complex, “Ulsan ARC (Advanced Recycling Cluster),” located within the 215,000 ㎡ area of SK Innovation’s refining and petrochemical complex “Ulsan CLX” in Gosa-dong, Nam-gu, Ulsan. The construction, equivalent in size to 22 international standard soccer pitches, involves a total investment of KRW 1.8 trillion and is scheduled for completion by the end of 2025.
The theme of the ceremony was “Opening the Future of Korea’s Circular Economy” and was attended by the Prime Minister of South Korea Han Duck-soo, Mayor of Ulsan Kim Doo-gyeom, Member of the National Assembly Park Sung Min, Deputy Minister of the Climate Change and Carbon Neutral Policy Office of the Ministry of Environment Geum Han-seung, Director of the Industrial Policy office of the Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy Lee Seung-ryeol, Vice Chairman & CEO of SK Innovation Kim Jun, and SK Geo Centric CEO Na Kyung-soo along with 250 other guests.
South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said in his congratulatory address, “The circular economy is a new economic order, and plastic is one of the keys to the circular economy transition.” He continued, “The government seeks to build the foundation for a plastic-free society to reduce social costs caused by increased plastic waste and strengthen industrial competitiveness.” He also said, “The government will support the research & development, as well as the industrial development to create an environment for plastics to be recycled as raw materials for the chemical industry, and will be a strong partner for companies taking the lead in building a circular economy.”
Mayor of Ulsan Kim Doo-gyeom said, “We are delighted that the world’s first eco-friendly cluster integrating three major advanced recycling technologies has been built in Ulsan.” He added, “In the future, we will focus our capabilities on creating a circular economy full-cycle industrial ecosystem in Ulsan and creating a carbon-neutral success model centered on the cutting-edge recycling cluster.”
Kim Jun, Vice Chairman & CEO of SK Innovation, said in his greeting, “Ulsan ARC is an iconic project of SK Innovation, which is pursuing innovation in business (Green Transformation) that contributes to the environment, and also penetrates sustainability – the core value of SK Group.” He emphasized, “Waste plastic will be reborn as a resource, and Ulsan, South Korea will become the backbone of the future plastic circular economy.”
In his welcome speech, SK Geo Centric CEO Na Kyung-soo said, “SK Geo Centric wants to open a new history in line with the changing needs of the times, such as the challenges facing the chemical industry and the climate crisis.” “Once the Ulsan ARC is completed, approximately 320,000 tons of waste plastic will be produced annually. The Korean chemical industry will leap forward once again based on a new future growth engine – recycled plastic,” he added.
SK Geo Centric is expected to resolve domestic environmental problems related to plastics and enhance competitiveness in the plastic recycling sector through Ulsan ARC. Once Ulsan ARC begins operation in 2026, around 320,000 tons of waste plastic will be recycled every year. This amounts to approximately 10% of waste plastic (3.5 million tons) that is incinerated or landfilled in Korea every year.
The Ulsan ARC project is anticipated to have a significant economic impact on the Ulsan region as well as the entire country. The main construction is expected to create about 2,600 permanent jobs and approximately 38,000 indirect employment opportunities. The indirect production-inducing effect in the Ulsan region is estimated to reach KRW 1.3 trillion annually and an increase of USD 700 million in exports expected upon completion. The company plans to expand the value chain of the overall recycling industry by diversifying partnership with small and mid-sized companies that specialize in collection and sorting in order to secure waste plastics necessary for factory operation.
The Ulsan ARC symbolizes a significant shift for SK Geo Centric as the complex presents solutions to waste problems and a blueprint for future business. The advanced recycling complex implements the three key advanced recycling technologies: pyrolysis, high-purity polypropylene (PP) extraction, and depolymerization, all in one place. A significant amount of plastics can be recycled regardless of its color, properties, and degree of contamination due to the complex’s technology.
A circular economy begins with the Ulsan ARC, a place where waste plastics find new uses. By utilizing advance methods to recycle plastic, it is anticipated that the use of crude oil will be reduced as the technology provides a solution for preventing recyclable plastic from being incinerated or landfilled.
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