The Importance Of A Circular Economy; Recycling Our Plastic Waste


The Downstream and Chemical industry within the UK and Europe has been a stable ec...

Lauren Edwards

By Lauren Edwards

The Downstream and Chemical industry within the UK and Europe has been a stable economic player for decades, enabling thousands of job opportunities for skilled engineers within the sector. However, with increasing pressure from governments put onto companies to become more efficient and reduce their carbon emissions – such as the Paris Agreement and the EU Circular Economy Strategy, and an increasing consumer shift towards environmentally sustainable products and renewable energy sources, where does this leave chemical corporations and the future of their business?

The future of the chemicals industry lies within recycling

Plastic products are integral to modern life, with many items contributing to improved living standards, such as plastic-based health products, – it’s the unmanaged plastic waste which has become a global challenge. Historically the Downstream sector has been a large contributor to plastic waste, and, whilst not attributed to this sector alone, the “plastic problem” has been at the forefront of global media with many companies aspiring to help tackle the problem, pledging support to their part in preserving our environment.

Plastic waste in our environment, including in our oceans, can cause significant harm to our ecosystems leading to untold problems to both the natural and developed world. Consequently, many Downstream companies are striving to make a change, with projects such as project STOP. Project STOP is an initiative co-founded by Borealis and SYSTEMIQ alongside the Indonesia government that aims to clean plastic waste from their oceans.

Alliance to End Plastic Waste" is an initiative made up of over 40 companies that have committed to investing €1.5 billion over the next 5 years to help end plastic waste in the environment. Part of the Group’s focus is to promote the reuse, recovery and recycling of plastic to keep it out of the environment. Initiatives such as this have gained global traction through evidencing that recycling is relevant to everyone irrespective of their industry.

Converting waste into income streams

For Downstream businesses, it’s not just about supporting the charities that clear the waste. There is a practical business model being adopted by manufacturers and refining companies alike: the circular economy. This model aims to re-use the plastic produced for further products, putting an end to single use plastic. There are various reuses available, for example, some plastics such as Polyethylene terephthalate bottles can be incinerated for small amounts of energy, or the bottles’ material value can be recovered to re-use it as a new plastic item, which is much more economically viable.

European businesses are at the forefront of the recycling within chemicals movement. The “European Plastic Pact” – made from 81 members - has been the first region to join the Ellen MacArthur foundation’s Global Plastics Pact network – an initiative which aims to tackle plastic pollution at its source by encouraging plastics to be manufactured from recycled plastics.

Chemicals businesses are investing into creating an infrastructure that will organise and manage their waste supply chains. With new infrastructures and initiatives comes a need for more staff.

Suzanne Edmond, Managing Consultant (Chemicals) at NES Global Talent comments:

"2020 is a turning point for the chemical industry with more companies than ever evolving their business strategy to ensure they are contributing to reducing the global waste problem and driving a circular economy through improved technologies and practices.

The new ways of looking at the feedstock cycle is shaping a new workforce, ones that are embracing new staff members in areas such as commercial, procurement, projects, automation, mechanical and process engineering, R&D, operations, and plant maintenance. Many businesses are creating new verticals within their operation purely focused on sustainability, with the multi-disciplinary functions seen across other divisions also replicated here to drive circularity; chemicals is an industry that demonstrates exponentially evolving technologies, and we ensure our consultants, network and expertise keep pace with the requirements of our clients."

It’s clear that the future of the chemical industry relies on more sustainable technology to encompass the utilisation of all available global resources, reduce waste products and protect the planet.

NES Global Talent and the Circular Economy

As an international business with decades of experience in placing staff across the chemical sector, NES are at the forefront of this challenge. We understand that it’s more important than ever to find the right mix of technical knowledge, forward thinking mind sets and behavioural excellence in the recruitment process. Our chemical recruitment division will deliver technical resource to your business, sourcing key hires that fit seamlessly into your organisation, whether you’re an operator or a start-up. If you’re looking for your latest technical chemical job, you can register on our website or search available roles.