Gulf states are working towards a zero landfill target for reducing plastics wastage by 2040, to match European timelines, according to the head of a regional petrochemicals association.
“I think that by 2040, we can reach something similar to Europe, but that would require concerted, collective effort from many players. We all should buy in to this, it’s optimistic target, I believe it’s doable,” said Abdullah Saadoun, secretary general of the Gulf Petrochemicals Association (GPCA) told The National in an interview in Dubai.
The mainly oil producing countries of the Middle East, which account for 35 per cent of world output have diversified into multibillion dollar petrochemicals ventures to boost revenue streams. The Gulf petrochemical industry today is valued at $25bn and accounts for 12 per cent of global market share. While around 3.5 to 4 million of the output, which GPCA pegged at 30 million tonnes in 2017 is consumed domestically, much of the production, around 80-85 per cent hits export markets, mainly in China and Asia.
Domestic demand in the region is growing on the back of rising populations as well as growing commercial use by industries including aviation and other transport. With this increase in consumption, the region has also begun to grapple with the problem of wastage, with only 8 per cent being recycled regionally.
“The rest is ending either in landfill or incinerated, which is a big loss,” said Mr Saadoun. “This is a wasted opportunity for recycling, capturing the value of plastics, given that some of the plastic is 100 per cent recyclable, like [mineral water] bottles,” he added. GPCA, which represents the downstream hydrocarbons industry in the region, is in talks with regulators in the industry to move towards a target similar to Europe.
“In other developed regions, they have set target, for instance, Europe by 2040 they aim to have zero landfill plan, but we’re not yet there. We hope that together with the regulator we can set it up for achieving such zero landfill,” he said.
Europe, which recycles 35 per cent of its plastics is waging war its war on polymers in two phases. The European Union is working to reach 60 per cent target for reuse and recycle of plastic packaging by 2030, with 100 per cent earmarked by 2040. European organisations from the polymers sector have also embraced the bloc’s push for waste reduction and announced voluntary commitments in January to reach 50 per cent plastics waste recycling by 2040.
In the Middle East, dumping of plastics remains a sore point, with the capacity to cause social unrest, as in the case of Lebanon, where a mountain of unrecycled plastic washed ashore earlier this year added to its festering garbage crisis. In the GCC, companies like Sharjah-headquartered Bee’ah have begun recycling plastic, including automobile tyres, which are then transformed into jogger tracks and rubber tiles.
Last October Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, also launched a recycling company, with the aim of reprocessing 85 per cent of the country’s recyclable wastes, currently being dumped in landfills. Saudi Arabia, which has the region’s highest capacities for petrochemical production is estimated to generate around 50 million tonnes of plastic waste of which 40 per cent are produced just in the eastern metros of Riyadh and Dammam and the Red Sea port city of Jeddah.