Plastic recycler gets funding as pollution awareness rises

environment-photo People collect recyclable materials from the garbage-littered banks of the Yangon River in Yangon in March 2018. Photo: EPA-EFE

20 Oct 2020 - Source: Myanmar Times - Fund manager Delta Capital Myanmar recently announced it had invested US$12.6 million in Commercial Plastics Co Ltd (CPC) of Yangon, which recycles post-consumer plastic bottles collected from all over the country.

The investment, made via Delta Capital's Myanmar Opportunities Fund II and Daiwa PI Partners' Daiwa Myanmar Growth Fund, will enable CPC to buy equipment to expand its recycling capacity at a time when environmental awareness and education are rising in the country.

It would make CPC the first recycler in Myanmar able to produce food-grade recycled plastic, or polyethylene terephthalate (PET), that meets the standards of the US Food and Drugs Administration and EU Food Safety Authority.

CPC was incorporated in Yangon in December 2016. Recycled PET is a viable alternative to, and would reduce Myanmar's reliance on, imported PET.

With the expansion, CPC would be able to supply high quality plastic bottles to domestic and international PET bottle converters and beverage manufacturers, as advocates are pressuring governments to protect the environment and businesses are realising the need to avoid single-use plastics.

CPC aims to collect and recycle over 20 percent of PET bottles made in Myanmar and cut over 15,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.

By working with like-minded companies, CPC aims to build a sustainable PET supply chain that will improve the operating, environmental and social standards of its suppliers, cement its leadership role in Myanmar's recycling market, and "push us higher up the value chain into food-grade recycled PET to help address this critical environmental issue," Steven Granot, CPC chair, said in a statement.

Myanmar's 54 million people consume an estimated 2 billion PET bottles a year, or about 40,000 tonnes of plastic. While that number is relatively low compared to other regional countries, it is expected to grow 10pc-15pc per year on the back of rising disposable income, according to Delta Capital.

Myanmar recycles an estimated 64pc of PET bottles, compared to an average 26pc in the rest of Southeast Asia, leading to opportunities for more work for CPC.

Rising awareness

CPC isn't the only plastic recycler to receive funds for expansion. Two others, Recyglo Myanmar and Myanmar Recycles, have both received cash injections from investors and fund managers who see the growth potential and need for recycling in Myanmar.

A recent consumer awareness survey conducted by Thant Myanmar as part of a European Union-funded project revealed that most people have started to avoid using plastic. The survey involved more than 2000 participants in Yangon, Mandalay and Pathein in Ayeyarwady Region.

Thant Myanmar was registered as a non-profit organisation to fight plastic pollution in February 2019.

The survey results revealed that of those who said they tried to use less plastic, 51pc only avoided using one of the plastic items listed.

Among the 17pc who did not avoid any plastic items, their top reason was that there was no alternative for it, followed by convenience.

There was also more room for education and raising awareness of the need to recycle plastic. Fifty-five percent of respondents identified environmental issues as the reason to avoid plastic, and over 40pc cited the long time it takes plastic to decompose.

The report concluded that while the public has aware of the environmental consequences of plastic waste, technical knowledge of the environmental impact of plastic was just average.

Half of the participants chose items such as reusable lunch boxes and mugs as ways to reduce the use of single-use plastics.

Lobbying for change

For recycling companies to succeed, more public awareness is needed as well as a commitment by the private sector and political will.

Thant Myanmar recommended solutions that focus more on the environmental problems created by plastics. "Public awareness campaigns should focus on the availability of alternatives, and projects should focus on increasing the alternatives to plastics," it said in the report. These alternatives should be easily accessible and available for the public's convenience.

Thant Myanmar suggested that companies work with partners in tourism and retail to raise awareness, while investors support development of an alternative packaging industry in the country. Meanwhile, Myanmar's population can press the government for policy changes to prevent single-use plastics.

Globally the production and disposal of plastics places an enormous burden on the environment. If the current consumption pattern continues, it is estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans, and that plastic will account for 20pc of oil consumption and 15pc of CO2 emissions, according to Delta Capital.

Global annual plastics production reached 360 million tonnes in 2018, a twenty-fold increase in the past 50 years, and it is expected to double again in the next 20 years, it said.

In light of the growing environmental concerns worldwide, both private and public sectors are calling for increased recycling, and regulators are imposing mandatory recycled content requirements.

In that light, Delta Capital Myanmar's investment makes Myanmar part of a global movement toward full-circle plastic recycling that has long-lasting social and environmental effects, said Nick Powell, managing partner of the firm.

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