INEOS strongly supports a transition to a circular economy, where the benefits of plastics are maximised, and the negative environmental impacts are minimised. And the reason is simple. It makes both environmental and business sense.
INEOS thrives on innovation.
It likes to show the world what's possible especially when others say it cannot be done.
In 2012 it built the first commercial plant in the world using technology it had developed to turn household waste into renewable energy and advanced biofuel. The bioethanol from waste could also have been used to produce plastic.
The Indian River County BioEnergy Centre in Florida also produced enough energy to run the plant and power up to 1,400 homes in the area.
The technology worked at laboratory and pilot scale but INEOS Bio could not make it economically viable at commercial scale.
Peter Williams is Group Technology Director at INEOS.
“INEOS has always seen the value in taking waste and making it into something else,” he said. “But we won’t do something if we need more energy to recycle the waste than we did to make the product in the first place. If it’s not better for the environment, we won’t do it. It must pass that test.”
In another project, more than 70% of Greater Manchester’s household rubbish no longer goes to landfill. It is diverted to INEOS’ site in Runcorn in the UK where it is used in a combined heat and power plant to produce electricity and steam.
“If we cannot recycle it, we can at least recover the energy from it,” said Peter. “But that’s a backstop. We want to find more efficient ways to recycle the waste.”
And that is now on the cards.
INEOS is currently in partnership with five or six technologies that would mean every molecule of plastic waste could be turned back into its original, chemical form.
“We are working with a number of businesses to find a solution,” said Peter.
INEOS is just as concerned as the public about plastic in the environment. This is a way to realise the value of plastic time and time again. If waste plastic is valued as a raw material it is less likely to be thrown away.
“We are looking at a number of different solutions with some overlaps,” said Peter.
Pressure on INEOS to act swiftly, though, is also coming from the top. From INEOS Chairman and Founder Jim Ratcliffe.
“He is very keen to be kept informed about what we, and the industry, are doing about it,” he said.
INEOS is doing a lot. Through partnerships and innovation, it is seeking solutions to the issues.
It is working in partnership with packaging companies and brand owners to rethink packaging design to help improve recycling rates. Currently, it can be difficult to recycle packaging because it is a blend of different polymers.
It is trying to improve the quality of recycled plastic, innovating with its polymer experts. It is developing polymer grades that can take increasing amounts of recycled product without degradation of properties.
It is looking at producing top quality plastic with 50% oil and gas – instead of 100% – and blending it with 50% waste plastic, thus reducing its dependence on fossil fuels.
“100% of plastic is recyclable,” said Peter.
INEOS strongly supports a transition to a circular economy, where the benefits of plastics (and other products) are maximised, and the negative environmental impacts are minimised.
“It makes environmental and business sense,” said Peter. “We are committed to supporting this transition where plastic is no longer discarded as waste but treated as a valuable material that can and is successfully recycled.”
Petra Inghelbrecht, Global Sustainability Manager, at INEOS Styrolution, said the vital contribution plastic had made to the modern world was often overlooked.
“Plastic has changed the world for the better, like no other material,” she said. “But it is hardly ever associated with sustainability, or how it has saved lives. We believe it is not about saying no to plastic but saying no to throwing away plastic.”
But Peter adds others need to play a part too.
“We need more collection, separation and sorting facilities,” he said.