Malcolm Kidd: moving towards a Circular Economy

Public sentiment towards plastics has changed radically over the last decade with a growing awareness of the problems caused by unnecessary plastic waste in our environment.

While many acrylic products are long-life rather than single-use or ‘throwaway’, our industry needs to adapt to changes in society and embrace working towards a Circular Economy – keeping resources in use for as long as possible through recovery and regeneration rather than disposing as waste.

Malcolm Kidd, EMEA Monomers Business Director, explained more…

“One of the most important topics currently facing us is the Circular Economy – both as consumers and in business. Whether you are considering the cause and impact of climate change on the planet, micro-plastics polluting the oceans or the need to reduce waste to landfill by recycling, these are all issues that link to having a circular economy.

“Today’s world, with its high standards of living, would not be possible without the contribution of the chemicals and plastics industries. Chemicals and plastics can be found in almost every aspect of our lives, often as the most sustainable solution. As a carbon-based society, the challenge is to manufacture these materials without irresponsibly consuming the planet’s finite resources.

“This means moving progressively to a world based on renewable carbon. The chemical industry is developing the technologies and capabilities to bring that about.”

How is Lucite International recognizing this?

“In our Monomers business area, we are working continuously to reduce the quantities of feedstocks (fossil-based or otherwise) that are consumed in our manufacturing processes. We are looking to reduce energy consumption wherever possible and to recover and re-use the energy created from the chemical reactions that occur when producing methyl-methacrylate (MMA), therefore significantly reducing carbon emissions from electricity generation. Alongside this we continually work and invest in reducing our emissions to air, water and land in all of our activities.

“The MMA global business unit of our parent company, Mitsubishi Chemical (MCC), is undertaking a number of longer-term activities that are relevant to the Circular Economy, in alignment with the KAITEKI philosophy of ensuring the sustainable well-being of people, society and planet Earth. Lucite International is very much involved with this”.

“On a different aspect of the Circular Economy, we have successfully integrated bio-based feedstock into our current manufacturing process at Cassel, and Research & Development teams at Wilton, UK and in Japan are collaborating on a program to manufacture MMA purely from biomass – a renewable source of organic material from plants. This would allow MCC to have a fourth technology for manufacturing MMA and, most importantly, one that does not rely on fossil-based carbon as the feedstock.”

What are the current recycling possibilities and their importance to the circular economy?

“A fundamental concept of the Circular Economy is that the value of materials and resources is maintained at the highest-possible level for the longest-possible time. It’s been known for a long time that pMMA can be recycled back to MMA which can then be re-used This is a differentiating feature of MMA/pMMA compared to most other monomers and polymers, but there are improvements required to the de-polymerisation process and the quality of the recycled product to make it sustainable. And it has proven difficult to recover and recycle large quantities of pMMA from end of life use given the fragmented nature of the value chain downstream. These are challenges faced by many polymers, but ones that we must try to overcome.

“Society is demanding a change in the way that we use the planet’s resources. But consumers are not willing to compromise the quality of living that they have. In addition, there is a collective and ongoing drive through initiatives like the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals aiming to improve the quality of life for all and allow the planet to cope effectively with the anticipated population increase.”

“The chemical industry has, in the past, proven to be one of the leading forces in these challenges and it will continue to play a massive part in the future. MCC has embraced these challenges, publicly aligned itself to them and is actively working towards achieving them.

“Methacrylate-based products make a fantastic contribution to the well-being of society and the standard of living enjoyed by all. As well as continuing to focus on improving our current manufacturing facilities and supply chains, it is exciting to contemplate what else methacrylates can bring to this new world.”