SK Geo Centric, a subsidiary of SK Innovation, has been developing petrochemicals in South Korea for 60 years. The company says its goal is to transform into the world’s leading plastic recycler by leveraging what it calls “vast opportunities” for the development of “urban oil fields.”
To achieve this, the company has launched its Waste & Carbon Zero strategy. Through 2021 and into 2022, SK Geo Centric has invested $260 million to further mechanical and advanced recycling of plastics and the necessary infrastructure. In the North American markets, SK Geo Centric has invested $56.5 million in Quebec-based Loop Industries, $55 million in PureCycle Technologies of Orlando, Florida, and $10 million with Closed Loop Partners, New York City, to advance circular business models, scalable recycling technologies and material recovery infrastructure in the U.S.
Recycling Today recently spoke with SK Geo Centric CEO Na Kyung-Soo to discuss the company’s Waste & Carbon Zero strategy, its investments and the plastic industry. The following interview has been edited for clarity.
Photo courtesy SK Geon Centric
Na Kyung-Soo at his desk
Recycling Today (RT): SK Geo Centric has launched its Waste & Carbon Zero strategy. Can you explain in detail what this strategy encompasses and what your specific goals around plastics are?
Na Kyung-Soo (NKS): The SK Geo Centric Plastic & Waste Zero strategy is to recycle 2.5 million tons of produced plastic, accounting for 100 percent of the [company’s] global production volume, and expand the proportion of eco-friendly products, such as ethylene and acrylic acid (EAA) copolymers, to 100 percent by 2027.
To meet this goal, we are running a 3R strategy to reduce plastic usage and replace it with eco-friendly or recyclable products. Ultimately, SK Geo Centric is committed to reducing its carbon emissions by half compared with 2019 levels and achieving a net zero target by 2050.
RT: What do you believe the biggest hurdles in plastics recycling are? How can they be overcome?
NKS: Recycling plastic is inherently difficult and faces numerous challenges. Firstly, we need to create a social atmosphere of recycling plastic and build a social system to encourage it. We should also drive the shifts in people’s perception of the reckless use of plastic.
Another challenge comes in the form of collecting plastics. The amount of plastic that is recyclable is quite limited based on the variation in the types of plastic. Each plastic has its own set of challenges when it comes to recyclability. Incorrectly discarded plastic mixing with recyclable plastic can disrupt the recycling process. In some cases, items discarded with plastic recyclables are not plastic. Once contaminated by outside elements, including food, plastic is much more difficult to recycle.
Korea is good at separating plastics from the waste stream, but the Asian region is still lagging. Investments in facilities to collect and sort plastics are needed. It is also essential that the government and citizens should be engaged in efforts to do that.
By adopting great technology, we should increase the rate at which discarded plastic is collected and sorted. Establishing a circular economy to efficiently collect and recycle plastic requires the construction of more recycling facilities.
Developing a plastic circular economy is not something SK Geo Centric can do alone. As a company, we have acquired a 10 percent equity stake in Loop Industries. Additionally, we recently joined as an equal partner [in] a joint venture with Loop Industries and Suez to build an “infinite loop” facility.