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Environment

Japan to use plastic waste for chemical production

JGC 's low-carbon recycling will avoid burning

Japan produced 9.03 million tons of plastic waste in 2017.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Japanese engineering company JGC will build facilities that convert plastic waste into raw materials used for chemical production, the corporation said Wednesday, a move that will help process discarded plastics no longer accepted by China and other emerging nations.

The plant recycles plastic waste into synthesis gases used for manufacturing of basic chemicals like ammonia and ethylene. JGC will start marketing the gasification plant to chemical and materials makers by the end of this fiscal year, in cooperation with Japanese partners like Showa DenkoUbe Industries and Ebara Environmental Plant.

Japan produced 9.03 million tons of plastic waste in 2017, according to the Plastic Waste Management Institute. About a tenth was shipped to China.

But the Chinese government banned imports of most plastic recyclables at the end of 2017 amid concerns over their environmental impact. Some Southeast Asian nations are following suit, leading to a growing pile of plastic waste in Japan.

JGC said it will work with industrial waste management companies to establish a supply chain for such materials.

The new facilities are expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars each. But they will allow chemical makers to save on disposal fees for plastic waste, as well as on raw materials to produce chemicals. Ethylene produced from plastic will likely be slightly more expensive, but ammonia is expected to cost about the same.

Plastic waste is often burned to heat water and generate electricity. But the method, called thermal recycling, has faced growing criticism because it releases large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Converting plastic waste is less carbon intensive, and JGC hopes to eventually export its plants to more environmentally conscious markets like Europe and Singapore. 

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