Highlighting the potential of the burgeoning recycling market in Asia, Daniel Solomita, the founder and CEO of Canada-based clean technology company Loop Industries, has vowed to build its first full-scale recycling production facility using plastic and textile wastes in South Korea’s southeastern city of Ulsan.
The plant is set to break ground later this year within the 1.7 trillion won ($1.3 billion) plastic recycling complex of SK Geo Centric, a chemical materials unit under the South Korean conglomerate SK Group, according to the CEO.
“We chose Ulsan, South Korea, not Canada, to create a strong foothold here and make foray into global markets like Asia and Europe. SK Geo Centric’s experience in operating facilities in petrochemical complex will create synergy with Loop’s chemical recycling technology,” said Solomita during a recent interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul.
Solomita was visiting Korea this week to further discuss detailed construction plans for the Ulsan joint venture.
Loop’s Ulsan plant will be producing water bottle-grade plastic materials from plastic wastes and polyester fiber from textile wastes for local and global brand owners who look to underscore their sustainability commitments by using recycled materials.
“We work with eco-friendly brands including L’Occitane, L’Oreal and Evian, who are already showing interest about taking volumes from the Ulsan project (to make their products here),” he said.
The CEO stressed that many overseas brands are eyeing Asia as both the production and recycling base.
“Europe’s recycling industry has been a big flashpoint until now. But the Asian market will become even more important as we move to 2030s, because of its well-established polyester fiber supply chain,” Solomita said.
Nike, Adidas and other brands mostly produce running shoes and clothes in Asian countries, so there is a huge demand from the clothing companies to buy recycled polyester fibers and make sustainable fashion items in Asia, he added.
“Why would they buy recycled materials from North America or Europe with additional shipping costs?”
Textile wastes can not only be turned into recycled clothes, but can also make good-as-new plastic water bottles. Polyester fiber represents 66 percent of the global market for polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, a clear lightweight plastic, according to Solomita.
Plastic waste can also be reborn as recycled PET bottles. Loop unveiled a new Evian bottle edition in 2021.
It is the first time ever for a bottle to be made from 100 percent recycled content with chemical recycling, the CEO explained. Chemical recycling is a method that breaks down the chemical structure of waste to produce raw materials.
Unlike Loop’s clear Evian bottles, the blue-bottled versions sold in Europe had to use blue dye to cover the opaque bottle because of their low-quality plastic, Solomita said.
Loop Industries’ innovative chemical recycling method comes from its patented low-energy PET plastic and polyester fiber recycling technology.
“Using low temperature and low pressure, we only specifically depolymerize, break down waste into its base petrochemical components, the PET plastic of low-quality plastic waste ranging from colored bottles to severely contaminated ones like paint plastics,” he said. “The cap, label, glue and other materials all stay whole, and we can simply filter them out.”
The CEO highlighted the technology’s utility in recycling textile waste such as clothes and carpets.
“Polyester fiber in textiles had been considered impossible to recycle because of their long list of mixture of materials – for instance, polyester and nylon, polyester and cotton, zippers and buttons. But with Loop’s technology, we can only specifically target the polyester,” he said.
In terms of the company’s net-zero target, the CEO stressed its production process using low-energy technology that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60 percent, compared to other factories manufacturing virgin petroleum-based PET using high quality plastic wastes.
While many brands had moved away from using recycled content during COVID-19 due to supply chain challenges, Solomita laid out a rosy outlook for the recycling industry.
“The endemic phase of COVID-19 provides a springboard so that more brands start committing to more recycled content and sustainability,” he said.