If we change our mind-set, we have won half the battle

Never before have industries worked more closely together to address the issue of plastic waste pollution, global warming and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, comments Dr Abdulwahab Al-Sadoun

Dr Abdulwahab Al-Sadoun is the secretary general of the Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association (GPCA). Set up in March 2006, GPCA is a dedicated non-profit association, serving its members with industry data and information sources.
Dr Abdulwahab Al-Sadoun is the secretary general of the Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association (GPCA). Set up in March 2006, GPCA is a dedicated non-profit association, serving its members with industry data and information sources.

If you follow the news, you have probably heard of Greta Thunberg – the 17-year-old girl from Sweden making waves on the world stage, whose name has become symbolic with the global climate change movement. Along the headlines about Greta, other starker news is resounding loud and clear, namely, that ‘The world is failing to meet the Paris Agreement goals’.

In 2015, world leaders agreed to take measures as part of the Paris climate accord to stop planet temperatures from rising above pre-industrial levels, to more than two degrees Celsius, which was later updated to 1.5 degrees. But no G7 country is even close to meeting this target. So, why did some of the world’s largest and most advanced economies fail to meet their sustainability goals, and more importantly, is it fair to use the term ‘failed’?

It is easy to place blame when governments are falling short of demonstrating clear results, when all we hear today is talk of desperation, but instead of pointing fingers and feeling discouraged about the past, we should look towards the future and all the power that we, as a society, hold together.

Taking action
Never before in history have global communities all over the world been more alert to the challenges facing our planet and the crucial role each and every member of society can play in preventing an environmental catastrophe. Never before have governments been more stringent in the legislations, they impose to help combat the global climate challenge.

Over the years, climate change has attracted over $1tn investment worldwide in the form of direct and indirect investment, as well as the establishment of monetary funds, new technology and assets. The chemical industry has made a tremendous effort in this regard both globally and regionally. Forty companies, a number of which are GPCA members, co-founded the global Alliance to End Plastic Waste in January last year and committed $1.5bn over the next five years to develop, deploy and bring to scale solutions that will minimise and manage plastic waste and promote an after-use economy for plastics.

Plastics and sustainability
In June of the same year, SABIC launched its Sustainability Roadmap aligned to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), outlining ambitious targets related to resource efficiency, climate change, the circular economy, food security and more. The roadmap forms both part of the company’s 2025 strategy and spans the organisation’s entire value chain from sourcing more sustainable feedstock, improving energy efficiency across operations, increased focus on sustainable product and process innovation, to advocacy and collaboration to mobilise multi-stakeholder action.

With climate change a growing challenge globally, GPCA, as the voice of the chemical industry in the Arabian Gulf, continues to put the spotlight on sustainability as a moral obligation not just through its important programmes and initiatives but also at its annual conferences designed to provide a platform to showcase innovations and share knowledge with real impact on sustainability.

At the 14th Annual GPCA Forum in Dubai, Saori Dubourg, member of the board of executive directors at BASF, introduced the concept of ‘Growth 2.0’, and said that the company’s new strategy aims for both profitable and CO2-neutral growth. She presented BASF’s new project in Europe, ChemCycling, designed to increase the recyclability of plastics and turn them into new products by using innovative recycling technology.

At the upcoming GPCA PlastiCon in March this year, value chain partners, including some of the world’s largest brands – Coca-Cola, Nestle, Henkel and Unilever – will come together with regional producers, regulators, converters and technology manufacturers to share valuable insights from their experience in bringing to market the latest innovations in plastic recycling and the circular economy, and showcase their contributions to the technology, manufacturing, innovation and collaboration needed to build a solid foundation for a circular economic model.

Circular economy benefits
It is hard not to recognise the tremendous economic and business opportunity presented by the circular economy, as the figures behind its implementation on cost savings, value creation and sustainability are truly astonishing. According to one report, switching to a circular economic model in the GCC could result in almost $138bn in savings, corresponding to nearly one percent of the region’s cumulative GDP between 2020 and 2030. Further, boosting circularity within households could generate cumulative benefits of $46bn for the same period. A reduction of up to 117 million tonnes of CO2 could also be achieved over the same period through electricity savings.

Beyond the disruption, this new economic concept will cause to existing value chains and business models, it will create myriad opportunities for the future by minimising waste, maximising resource consumption, extracting greater value from waste, and creating new job opportunities in the GCC and elsewhere. As far as plastics are concerned, by merely integrating recycled plastic into the chemical industry’s value chain, an annual profit pool of $55bn worldwide can be created by the year 2030. However, this is easier said than done, and the industry would need to work more closely with the regulators, focus on greater value chain integration, create an effective after use economy for plastics, and design plastic products with recovery, reusability and recyclability in mind in order to capture the benefits presented by a circular economy for plastic.

The true power of transformation lies with the 7.7 billion people on this planet. Change is already under way in major cities across the world, including the vibrant city of Dubai, home to over 3.3 million people, where students and residents of all ages attended week-long school visits rounded off with a community outreach event, during 9-13 February as part of GPCA’s Waste Free Environment  (WFE) campaign. Participants learned about the benefits of plastic recycling and sustainability, and that real change starts at home. If we change our mind-set and our relationship with waste, we have won half the battle, and this is the message that WFE aimed to spread, one of optimism, togetherness and positive action.

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