CEO Braskem Netherlands BV & Vice President Olefins/Polyolefins Europe and Asia
Exclusively for K-MAG
Walmir Soller, CEO Braskem Netherlands BV & Vice President Olefins/Polyolefins Europe and Asia
While the Corona pandemic initially had a negative impact on almost all markets, the plastics industry benefited in the course of 2020 due to the increasing demand for personal protective equipment, to-go packaging for food and household items. The chemical company Braskem is also noticing this development in Brazil.
In an interview with K-MAG, Walmir Soller, CEO of Braskem Netherlands, talks about the Brazilian plastics market, the new bio-based I'm green application, and Braskem's contribution to the circular economy.
How do you see the current situation of the plastics industry in Brazil?
Walmir Soller: The world is experiencing a scenario of uncertainties related to the pandemic and this is no different for Brazil. The successive waves of cases for a long period of time, growing unemployment and Governmental support – all have impacted consumer behavior, making it difficult to predict market responses in the different segments. We saw a very weak beginning in 2020, followed by an impressive demand recovery. The first quarter of 2021 has been stronger still and the situation for the rest of the year will depend on the evolution of the pandemic around the globe, the pace of vaccination and our economic recovery.
Whilst different resins and segments experienced specific challenges, the recovery seen in the second half of the year has impacted all resins positively: PE, PP and PVC. Segments such as health care, food packaging, construction and household have seen the strongest growth due to the changing habits with the pandemic, such as working from home that led to an increase in search for more space (houses), home appliances, cooking (food packaging), and purchases via e-commerce (protection packaging).
Furthermore, despite all the challenges, the current situation has highlighted the importance of plastics in our society with its different uses for fighting the Covid-19 crisis – Personal Protection Equipment, disinfectant containers, food packaging, and ventilators, essential to save countless lives. At the same time, awareness for conscious consumption, proper disposal and management of plastic waste, and industry action for the implementation of a circular economy has become a priority across the globe.
What do you think are the three most important issues in the industry at the moment, both in Brazil and globally?
Soller: The main point of attention remains the uncertainty related to the pandemic and its implications not only in Brazil, but worldwide. Besides the short term changes in demand profile, we might see long term changes in behavior that will shape the future of the industry.
Among the mega trends after Covid-19, sustainability has become a priority to society, given that Climate Change and Plastic Waste are two highly visible social issues.
To tackle Plastic Waste, the biggest challenge, in Brazil and worldwide, is the lack of infrastructure and public policies for the destination, collection and sorting of recyclable material in order to foster mechanical recycling and to develop sustainable solutions for post-consumption residues.
Besides mechanical recycling, chemical recycling will be another important route to allow the recovery of the building blocks of different plastics residues into new and virgin plastic replacing the usual feedstock, naphtha obtained from oil.
Braskem has made a name for itself, especially in biopolymers and the use of sustainable raw materials. Could you give us a few examples of this?
Soller: I'm green™ is our flagship brand, known for our fully segregated and certified bio-based polyethylene (bio-PE) made from Ethanol from responsibly sourced sugarcane in Brazil. Since 2010, with an investment of US$ 290 MM and 200 kt/yr capacity, we have been sourcing from the Centre South Region of Brazil, with Ethanol partially certified by Bonsucro and farming areas following Braskem's Responsible Ethanol Sourcing Program that was developed by Braskem and the Pro-Forest organization. This means we are still recognized as the global leader in bio-based plastics. Recently we have announced an additional investment of US$ 61MM to increase our capacity by 30% in the second half of 2022.
Over the years, Braskem has won many awards related to our I'm green™ bio-based, supporting global customers such as IKEA, Tetra Pak and LEGO. In 2018, Braskem has launched a second sugarcane-based drop-in resin, I'm green™ EVA, which, besides the positive environmental impact, is ideal for several segments, notably footwear. Allbirds, a US shoes manufacturer, developed a SweetFoam® shoe sole, based on our I'm green™ EVA. Those are just some examples of our I'm greenTM bio-based application that can be found in many brands in the Americas, Europe and Asia.
Braskem has made circular economy one of its top priorities. How does Braskem see the circular economy role in the future and how has Braskem contributed with circular economy?
Soller: Braskem has had sustainability in its DNA since our creation in 2002. We reduced the intensity of our greenhouse gas emissions (scopes 1 and 2) by more than 17% when comparing 2008 results with the moving average from 2018 to 2020, reaching 85% of the long-term goal established for 2020 around climate change. This reduction was largely due to the acquisition of renewable energy sources and the gain in energy efficiency in our industrial units. In total this has prevented the emission of almost 30 million tons of CO2e – the equivalent of planting more than 200 million trees.
Besides carbon emissions, we also made bold commitments in terms of commercializing chemicals and plastics with recycled content 300 kt/yr by 2025, and 1MMt/yr by 2030.
Our contribution to Circular Economy spans renewable feedstock all the way to end-of-life technology such as mechanical and chemical recycling.
In order to develop mechanical recycling, chemical recycling and promote the recovery of plastic residues, we have announced several initiatives (listed below), and we are still working on new initiatives that are not public yet.
Partnership with Tecipar, a Brazilian company specialized in environmental engineering, which will prevent more than two thousand tons of household plastic waste (about 36 million PE and PP packages) from being dumped annually at the Santana de Parnaíba landfill, in metropolitan region of São Paulo, Brazil;
Investment of R $ 67 million in a recycling line with German technology, the result of a partnership with the Brazilian company Valoren, developer and operator of technologies, for the transformation of waste into post-consumer recycled resin. The recycling line will have the capacity to transform approximately 250 million plastic packages into 14 thousand tons of high-quality post-consumer resin per year;
Cooperation agreement signed between Braskem, Fábrica Carioca de Catalisadores (FCC SA), SENAI CETIQT and COPPE / UFRJ to enable the development of new catalysts, in order to improve the yield during the pyrolysis process – essential for the achievement of chemical recycling;
Together with Encina, a leader in solutions for the production of renewable chemicals, it will be possible to use technology capable of creating sustainable chemical products from post-consumer plastic, developing circular polypropylene (PP), with the same characteristics as fossil resin, for packaging of food and consumer and hygiene products;
Partnership with Agilyx in the US to start a feasibility study for the development and construction of an advanced project for the production of raw material from advanced plastic recycling. The objective is to find an efficient and sustainable way for the production of PP from raw material produced using mixed plastic waste.
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