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TimePosted 17/06/2019 09:53:10

Asia's need to embrace co-processing

As the Cemtech Asia 2019 Conference and Exhibition prepares to open in Bangkok next week, our weekly newsletter focusses on the opportunity for co-processing in Asia's cement sector, where general, post-consumer, plastic waste is being imported on an unprecedented scale, since China banned these foreign imports in 2017. Malaysia alone, for example, imported more than 754,000t of plastic waste from January to June 2018, according to Greenpeace. While public campaigns against imported waste have escalated, the protests do not distinguish between the different end-uses of imported waste material, which is becoming a key problem for the cement industry.

The unchecked volumes of imported foreign waste have become an environmental nuisance and this has led to some authorities imposing restrictions on most rubbish from abroad. So regional cement producers with legal co-processing deals are already finding barriers to importing their valuable fuel resource.

The burden of imported waste has fallen upon countries like Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand, but many of the waste processing sites in these countries are illegal and storage is often in the open air. This causes problems to human health because of roadside burning, river contamination and spillage of the plastic waste.

The transport of foreign waste
Public pressure is already influencing action against the transport of any foreign waste. Officials in the Philippines, for example, declined to issue import permits last month for a shipment of plastic-waste-based fuel that is produced in Australia and used in the production of cement, reported the New York Times. The customs official explained that the import request was denied partly because of "past and present controversies on the importation of waste."

However, a total ban on the trade of plastic waste to southeast Asia could be very damaging for responsible recycling companies and cement manufacturers, who demonstrate the benefits of their industrial process for co-processing. Pavel Cech, Malaysia-based managing director of Resource Co Asia, reported that between 100-150 shipping containers would not reach cement kilns in Malaysia and the Philippines this month because of customs disputes. He argues that in such cases the cement companies have to revert back to burning coal. Therefore, it is vital that the cement industry helps the public see co-processing as an opportunity, and to promote it as 'upcycling' of waste rather than reverting to burning fossil fuels.

Co-processing: India's next challenge
In many cases, the cement industry is challenged by the initial capital expenditure required for co-processing. As of December 2017, 14.95Mt of waste was diverted for co-processing in Indian cement plants. It is often the absence of an environmental incentive, such as the 'pollutant must pay' and environmental permitting laws, or the lack of sorting and processing plants for post-consumer waste that has made co-processing an uphill challenge in India. It is not that the country doesn't produce enough suitable waste for co-processing.

Indeed, the city of Bengaluru has a private initiative for 'ragpackers' to collect plastic waste, which is then sent to the cement plants. This joint venture between Indian Beauty and Hygiene Association (IBHA) and Isha Fiber and Fuel Source (IFFS) segregates used plastic materials. "India discards 80 per cent of plastic, around 25,000tpd, which goes to landfills," IBHA President, Dinesh Dayal, said. "Bengaluru alone is generating 3500tpd of waste, 100t of which is thin plastic." Dinesh Dayal added that 3t of thin plastic can replace 2t of coal for the cement industry.

Corporate image pressure
But the drive for such waste-to-energy initiatives may have to come from the companies that generate the plastic in the first place and who have to show a corporate environmental responsibility to their customers. In the Philippines, the third-largest source of ocean plastic pollution, according to the Business Mirror, Nestlé Philippines and Republic Cement (CRH-Aboitiz) joined forces this month to launch a co-processing agreement for post-consumer plastic waste.

Nestlé Philippines Chair and CEO, Kais Marzouki, said the company has targeted 'plastic neutrality' or recovering plastics equal to what Nestlé produces. "Aside from our current collection and recycling initiatives, we believe this effort will help us gather and co-process bigger volumes of post-consumer waste. We target to divert more post-consumer waste from landfills and the ocean," said Kais Marzouki. In April 2018 Nestlé announced a global commitment to use 100 per cent of recyclable packaging by 2025 with none of its packaging ending up in landfill. Companies like Nestlé can support co-processing further by developing the right type of packaging not only for their product but also for use in co-processing.

"There’s still a lack of knowledge on the importance of co-processing. We look forward to helping the issue of post-consumer waste and look forward to the successful implementation of this project," said Renato Sunico, Republic Cement President.

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