With an estimated 86% of plastics entering the ocean from Asian river systems, what’s the answer to stopping this flow? It doesn’t take much time looking into waste* collection systems in Southeast Asia to spot multiple failures.
Why the asterisk? Because we have opportunity to solve two problems at once–not only leakage of plastics into the seas, but also the high volume of materials going into these ecosystems in the first place.
By applying Circular Economy concepts, we can move from dealing “waste” flows to turning those flows into new feed stocks, moving from “waste management” to “resource recovery management”.
The APEC Business Advisory Council has launched a series of conferences to help government policy makers, private investors and business to design and implement resource recovery management infrastructure projects. The first conference on “Building The Infrastructure for The Circular Economy in APEC” was held at the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce last month, where Read the Air moderated a panel on “Advancing the Circular Economy through Resource Recovery Management (2RM)”.
Donald Eubank led a discussion with Dr. Leiliang Zheng of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, Roland Thompson of the Green Power Investment Group (Japan), Nigel Mattravers of Alba Integrated Waste Solutions (Hong Kong) and Gen Takahashi of JFE Engineering Corporation on the opportunities and challenges in taking a Circular Economy approach to such infrastructure projects.
The value of policy makers adopting the language of the Circular Economy was a major theme in the conversation. Changing the language helps to completely redirect the thinking around waste* management. Not only does it shift the conversation to “resource management,” it makes it apparent to policy makers that responsibility for managing such projects can no longer remain in the customary silos within government bodies. Circular efforts require cooperation across organizations to create a whole new platform for implementing such infrastructure projects.
And it was policy that has been the greatest obstacle in many of the projects that Green Power, Alba and JFE has worked on. In many cases, we are talking about technology that isn’t necessarily new, and Dr. Zheng, a materials expert, showed the favorable market trends supporting solutions that help in reducing, reusing, and recycling resources, as well as for treatment and disposal technologies and those that enable energy recovery. Yet the investment and policy environment must change for innovating resource recovery management infrastructure projects to become a reality.
Further panels at the conference explored complexities around legal ownership of waste, investor risk in such projects, and the necessity of finding customers for the processed products from recovered resources.
Regarding the kinds of solutions that should be discussed under the umbrella theme of the conference, Fiona Sykes of Arup Group highlighted that investors and policy makers should make sure that as they move from “linear” economy infrastructure projects to ones that are Circular in nature, that they don’t stop at half measures that look Circular but actually just add a “loop” to a linear economy approach. That is, if you are taking a material, recovering it and using it once, for example as a fuel that is burned the same as one that powers a car and then requires a new input from a new source, then the process is essentially the same as existing ones; there has been real advance along Circular Economy principals.
Policy makers should understand that the highest value is in reducing the amount of resources used in the first place, and in making sure that once a resource has entered into the technical flow of materials in an industrial cycle, it stays there for as long as feasible.
And that was perhaps the biggest takeaway for Read the Air from the event – that policy makers are going to need a lot support to understand these new ways of thinking. In order to embrace solutions to resolve their problems around waste* and the resulting ocean plastic, APEC and its partners in this forwarding thinking initiative will have to make it very clear what is Circular and what is business as usual.
It’s ambitious to try and resolve the ocean plastic crisis at the same time that we are rethinking about the fundamental way of how we handle waste* in Asian cities. But it is a noble one, and we hope that all possible efforts are made to help policy makers understand the proper course they must undertake when they set out to build Circular Economy-based infrastructure.
“Building The Infrastructure for The Circular Economy in APEC” was co-organized by the
APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) Hong Kong, Asia-Pacific Financial Forum (APFF)
and Asia-Pacific Infrastructure Partnership (APIP), and held on September 9, 2019.