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Plastics too valuable to throw away – An interview with Borouge's Laurence Jones

From Left to Right, Mr. Neeraj Rawal, COO, Polymerupdate, Mr. Sajjid Mitha, Founder & CEO, Polymerupdate, Mr. Laurence Jones, VP Marketing Centre,
Borouge Pte Ltd, Ginu Joseph, Editor in Chief and Media Director, Modern Plastics India Magazine

Q. Tell us something about Borouge?

A. Borouge is a leading petrochemical company that provides innovative, value creating plastics solutions. A joint venture between the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), one of the world’s major oil and gas companies, and Austria based Borealis, a leading provider of chemical and innovative plastics solutions; Borouge is a groundbreaking international partnership at the forefront of the next generation of plastics innovation. With its base in the United Arab Emirates and Marketing & Sales head office in Singapore, Borouge employs more than 3,000 people representing over 40 nationalities and serves customers in 50 countries across the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Q. Tell us something about you?

A. I am a polymer chemist and have worked in the polymer industry for 36 years and specifically for Neste Chemicals, Borealis & Borouge for 30 years – mostly in sales & marketing positions. During that time I have accumulated global experience having been based in UK, USA, Belgium, Abu Dhabi and Singapore. I am currently the Vice President for the Marketing Centre Packaging in Borouge Pte, which covers all Borouge polyolefin products for rigid & flexible packaging and agriculture.

Q. What are the initiatives which Borouge took to tackle the 6 global challenges?

A. Each product that we develop has to address these challenges and also pass the sustainability test. This test is based on a multi-point formula which generates a sustainability number. If the product doesn’t pass that, we don’t develop the product. Each of our products is designed keeping the sustainability factor into consideration and we do a thorough check in each of the stages of development to ensure our initial sustainability assumptions remain valid.

Q. What are your suggestions for waste management?

A. My best suggestion is that polymer producers, the big polymer convertors and especially the brand owners get together with governments and the green lobby groups. We must all work together as one unit if we are going to truly address these tough issues. There is such an alliance called the ‘packaging covenant’ which is working today in Australia where consumers have been very active in criticizing the plastics industry.

Q. So how does the Australian Government follow it effectively?

A. Right from Day 1, the packaging covenant works to design the package to be either reusable or recyclable. The green lobby groups make sure that they follow the design principles. The ideal concept is not to use plastics once and then throw away, it must be reusable. In Germany, if you make something in a package, you are responsible to take back that package back or do something to dispose of it. Again, if you make a product reusable, you don’t have to take it back.

Q. During your presentation, you mentioned that Packaging saves 50% of the food. Can you elaborate a bit more on that?

A. Let me substantiate by an example. Say, for eg that you need to supply tomatoes to people’s homes to be consumed. These are soft fruits which are easily damaged. At a particular storage point, you probably lose like 10% without proper packaging. During the distribution stage to various retail outlets where they are put on display, they are handled by the public and some additional percentage is lost as well. I read that in Europe around 30% is lost at this stage. However, if you protect such items with proper packaging at an earlier stage, the likelihood for it to get damaged is far less. Also, in countries like the US and Europe, consumers buy more food than they actually eat and often lose 20 % right there. Whereas by packaging, you get to choose the number of tomatoes you need and hence you consume all that you buy, thereby reducing wastage. This way, from each stage of the process from field to consumption, you actually reduce the amount of loss.

Q. Why is the reputation of plastics bad? How can we improve it?

A. The main reason for that is the way plastics are disposed of after use. Countries like Germany and Belgium are very strong in recycling. There are strict rules where they punish you if not recycled properly and on the other side reward you if you care enough to recycle, more or the less the traditional carrot and stick approach. In those countries plastics are not considered a problem. Plastic is generally viewed as a problem when consumers see it in the environment. It is seen as pollution and a threat to animals and hence it gets a bad reputation. If we are able to tackle that through activities like the Packaging Covenant, then all we see are the positive aspects of plastics and the negative ones disappear.

Q. You mentioned about the 4R’s during your interaction with us earlier. Can you elaborate on it with respect to the Indian context?

A. I remember a Chinese proverb which says ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’. Taking the first step is the most difficult. In India, there is no tradition for recycling except the picking of waste from landfills. There is no systemic management of waste. Government needs to make a decision to make recycling of plastics waste high on their agenda. Of course, this will be costly to start up and the risk for any government is that the public may vote them out if they think too much of their taxes are being spent on this. But the reality is that this is needed – and needed now. As each year goes by, the per capita use of plastics will keep increasing, so the problem will get bigger the longer we wait.

If we are able to manage this in a big way, then we can reuse plastics instead of wasting it. It comes from a non-renewable resource and hence we must reuse and recycle it as much as possible and not just throw it away. Whether it’s the state or the national government, they have to be quite courageous to take that first big step. The rest of the industry like the brand owners, the polymer producers and the big polymer convertors will automatically support any government because it’s the right thing to do.

Q. How can we improve the way consumers perceive plastics in contact with food?

A. It’s impossible to teach the entire population in the world the difference between polycarbonate, polyethylene, polypropylene, PVC etc. It’s natural for the consumers to believe if somebody stands up on the TV and says bis-phenol A is terrible and is used in plastics they will believe all plastics contain bis-phenol A. They don’t understand that it is just a precursor in making polycarbonate and it doesn’t have anything to do with other plastics. Further, the amounts left in polycarbonate are so miniscule and are considered by authorities to be not enough to affect anybody. These intricate details are difficult to be understood by everyone. It’s no wonder that the public fears that plastics are bad. The only thing we can do is work with the major brand owners to give consumer alternatives if they want to take them.

Q. What is the growth secret behind Borouge?

A. In Borouge 1, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company had some oil fields where they had ethane gas which had to be removed to get the oil. In the past this would have been burned to get to the oil. We came along and converted this ethane gas into polyethylene. Hence, it’s much better for the environment. As new oil fields were opened more ethane became available and Borouge was able to grow capacity. The markets were also growing and we deal in markets from East Africa to New Zealand and typically developing countries where the growth is 3-4% above GDP. So the growth is always there despite GDPs of countries like China and India reducing to 6 or 7%. Also, as disposable income increases with the increasing of the middle class, the demand for our products increases further.

Q. What are your expansion plans on a Global as well as local level?

A. The next obvious move for Borouge, unless another major oil filed suddenly becomes opened up or ethane becomes available, is that we won’t be building anymore crackers to crack ethane. However, there is propane as well as naphtha available. We are looking at the feasibility study for what we call Borouge 4 which would be based on either propane cracker, a butane cracker or a naphtha cracker. At this stage all options are still open. My opinion is most likely a naphtha cracker as we get an opportunity to do other chemicals as well and hence a broader range in the petrochemical basics. Borouge 4 feasibility is on the charts as we speak now. I hope it will become a reality sometime in the early 2020s.

Q. Any specific plan for India?

A. Our growth plan is India is currently centered around logistics and sales. However Borouge through its owner Borealis is now more closely aligned with IPIC, the investment wing of the Abu Dhabi government. They do a lot of investment outside UAE. A good example is the acquisition of Nova Chemicals in Canada a couple of years ago. So I truly believe anything is possible in India and other Asian countries.

Q. What are the steps that Borouge does towards recycling? Do you do any specific campaigns ?

A. In Europe, Borealis has brought a recycling company and also plan to expand that. They are considering to do that in the UAE as well. In Abu Dhabi we have put recycle stations at all the ADNOC petrol stations. We are aware that all the recycled items are currently packaged out and sent to China where its recycled, but we are trying to find a way to have a recycling plant in the UAE which will make the whole recycling process more efficient. So we have the infrastructure for collection from consumers to take to a central point. What we need now is the recycling facility within the UAE and I’m sure that will come in the near future.

Q. What message would you like to give to the Indian plastic Industry?

A. Although there are areas where we compete, I feel that we have areas where we need to work together and one such area is this whole question about waste. There are no anti trust issues about talking to Indian competitors about this problem. If Borouge and the Indian government go hand in hand about such issues, it will definitely add a lot more weight if the Indian polymer producers are there as well. I will be really happy to bring Borouge support this type of engagement in India.

For more details:

Source: Modern Plastics India Magazine

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