INDUSTRY INSIGHTThought Leadership

The USD 6 billion GCC recycling stronghold

By Maryam Al Mansoori, General Manager, Rebound Plastics Exchange

Currently, GCC countries recycle very little plastics compared to other regions in the world. There lies though a significant opportunity to thrive on increased collaboration towards a shared infrastructure. When looking at recycling, it has become all too clear that countries alone cannot catalyse the full recycling process, for a lack of feedstock, better infrastructure and even demand. Yet by combining efforts, Gulf states could not only monetize on greater returns but create even greater impact towards net-zero. In fact, where poor plastics disposal practices can threaten human health, its sustained recycling could cut carbon dioxide emissions by 9.75 million tons each year and reduce primary energy consumption by around 3% overall if recycling rates improve by 30%. Yet at present, low GCC recycling rates are leading to losses of large volumes of recycled plastics, which have crucial applications, such as in construction, medicine, and food packaging.

Filling the gaps

Today, the UAE plastic recycling market is forecast to reach 1.44 million tonnes by 2030, and could greatly benefit from neighbouring Bahrain, a state that bolsters material recycling (MRF) and plastic (PRF) recycling facilities but lacks feedstock. The monetary value carried by recycled plastics therefore also lies in addressing the facilities available at a regional level. Even more so considering the ambitious of Rebound Plastics Exchange (RPX), a global B2B digital trading platform for recycled plastics, a turning point for the industry as the world’s plastics market is forecasted to reach $46.6 bn by 2025. Should plastics be moved across borders through RPX for recycling, quality assurance is guaranteed against any hazardous materials. In fact, prior to finalizing the trade lies a succinct inspection at all involved facilities through partnering organizations to make sure the feedstock is of a trusted nature.


The joint effort

Filling the demand with recycled plastics will position the GCC as a key actor in the global effort towards circularity. It will also significantly help Gulf states achieve their respective national ambitions on their path to net-zero. And, as the host of COP28 next year, the UAE has an opportunity to not only drive climate action at home but also to set an example and inspire the world. To this end, the effort must also come from the private sector.

The incentive for cross-border trade answers to overarching concerns that lie in feedstock. As more supply chain actors take up that challenge, they in turn contribute towards the total circumvention of feedstock deficit. This directly ties to countries currently holding the necessary infrastructure such as MRFs and PRFs, where others do not. As a result, the conversation thus shifts around opportunities rather than a lack of thereof. The time has come to turn the tables in the global race to sustainability.

Introducing these collaborative means demands visionary ambition, commitment, and co-ordination between the public and private sectors, and RPX can make that happen. To this end, RPX is implementing an innovative passporting system to operate an end-to-end digital certification according to global standards, reposing confidence and simplifying the transactions for buyers and sellers of recycled plastic. If implemented successfully, the recycled plastics sector can bring significant environmental, financial, and social benefits to the GCC region.

Maryam Al Mansoori is one of the speakers at one of day one’s strategic panels entitled ‘A holistic approach to building global plastic governance’ at the 12th GPCA Plastics Conference, taking place on 14-15 May 2023 in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia.

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