CORRECTION - MARINE LITTER
Alliance to End Plastic Waste's project Renew Oceans collapses / Pandemic and technical problems blamed for breakdown of multi-company clean-up effort in India
Info: According to an AEPW spokesperson, Alliance to End Plastic Waste has not closed its doors. Only one project by the alliance, Renew Oceans, has been terminated.
26.01.2021 18:33:08
In an unexpected turn, the Singapore-based non-profit organisation Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW; www.endplasticwaste.org) has apparently terminated the project “Renew Oceans”. AEPW was launched almost two years ago in London by 29 international industry companies, including BASF, Braskem, Clariant, Covestro, Shell, Dow, LyondellBasell, Sabic, Exxon Mobil and Chevron Phillips Chemical (see Plasteurope.com of 17.01.2019), who had committed to pump USD 1.5 bn into reducing and eliminating plastics waste in the environment, especially in the oceans.

The shutdown of the whole alliance was not officially announced, but after the premises of the group’s Renew Oceans project in Varanasi on India’s Ganges river were recently found abandoned, a spokesperson told Reuters that both AEPW and the Ganges clean-up had halted work in October 2020, due to coronavirus-related shutdowns and “other implementation challenges.” A lawyer for Renew Oceans told the news agency that the project simply did not have the capacity to operate at the scale needed.

In contrast, a spokesperson of AEPW told Plasteurope.com that the alliance “is still very much operating in full speed on multiple projects”, and that only the Renew Oceans project has been terminated. “The alliance is not closing its doors or shutting down. Renew Oceans was one project – and the alliance has over 20 projects underway.”

At the initiative’s launch, the goal was to divert millions of tonnes of plastics waste in more than 100 cities globally from landfills or waterways and recycle it. In its “2020 Progress Report” published in September 2020 (see Plasteurope.com of 11.09.2020), the alliance claimed it had activated 14 projects across 14 cities in Ghana, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. It also singled out 55 member-led projects worth USD 400m (EUR 340m). In the final tally, it seems that only a handful of small-scale projects had collected any waste, and the haul in any case was minimal.

A clean-up effort in Ghana collected 300 t and another in the Philippines recycled 21 t of discarded plastics waste, according to information reported by project partners. The alliance’s published target was to collect 45 t of waste from the Ganges in 2019 and 450 t in 2020, but several people involved in the projects told Reuters that less than 1 t of waste was retrieved from the Ganges before work stopped in March 2020 after less than six months of operation.

To rephrase the famous idiom: where there is a will, there should be a way. But one of the most daunting challenges encountered by marine litter clean-ups – apart from low-tech beach-cleaning drives – seems to be getting the collection technology right. Another conundrum may be ensuring that multiple partners keep paying their share even without visible success. Even with a single-owner foundation structure, though, the Dutch non-profit The Ocean Cleanup (TOC, Rotterdam / The Netherlands; www.theoceancleanup.com) created by young entrepreneur Boyan Slat has faced repeated delays due to technical design setbacks (see Plasteurope.com of 05.01.2021).

At the outset of their partnership, AEPW and Renew Oceans said they would deploy state-of-the-art technology to collect and recycle plastics waste, including “reverse vending machines” that take in plastics litter and give out vouchers for discounts for taxi rides and groceries, and pyrolysis devices to convert plastics trash into diesel. Prototypes of those devices were deployed in Varanasi but regularly malfunctioned, Reuters’ sources said.

News of the alliance’s failure drew considerable feedback. One view was that even if the plans had reached full scale, it would still be only a drop in the bucket, as developing countries such as Indonesia or India produce and discard several millions of tonnes of plastics waste annually. AEPW’s programmes were “trivial in scale and not replicable to make a real reduction in the massive amount of global plastics pollution,” an independent chemical engineer commented. “The richest and most powerful companies on the planet,” Greenpeace USA said, “could only come up with some small, community litter picking projects that make for nice photo opportunities. There is no way to reduce plastics waste without reducing plastics production.”
26.01.2021 Plasteurope.com [246775-1]
Published on 26.01.2021

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