Circularity: DGRADE, Addressing the Challenges of Plastic Waste
Recycling plastic in itself is green as it diverts plastic from landfill and saves resources, said Jeroen Adriaansens, Managing Partner, DGRADE.
In an exclusive interview with Sustainability Middle East, Mr Adriaansens said that Recycling plastic in itself is green as it diverts plastic from landfill and saves resources.
"Until recently there was almost no recycled PET packaging produced within the UAE. Through our sophisticated recycling process, we deliver a high-quality flake that can be used to produce recycled plastic food and non-food packaging," he stated
Below are the excerpts from the interview...
Tell me something about yourself - what drives your passion for sustainability?
I am an advocate for plastic recycling and a circular economy. After working in the petrochemical industry for several years, I joined DGrade as Trade Director to provide a sustainable solution for plastic by recycling it, helping to combat the issues of plastic pollution and climate change.
At DGrade Recycling Factory in Abu Dhabi, we produce recycled plastic flakes which are used to make new recycled products. By recycling plastic, we save 55% carbon emissions, 50% energy, 20% water, and 100% oil, compared to virgin plastic polymers.
Plastic is in high demand because it helps preserve food and is a safe and cost-effective packaging material. It is also one of the greenest packaging options, due to its recyclability.
At DGrade I can play a vital role in supporting the region’s goal to divert waste from landfill and reduce our reliance on precious resources. The legacy of what we do at DGrade will live on for generations to come.
What does DGRADE recycle and produce?
DGrade recycles clear plastic, polyethylene terephthalate (PET), most commonly used for water bottles and rigid food packaging.
At our factory in Abu Dhabi, we recycle this into high-quality flakes and supply it to local packaging manufacturers to make recycled food packaging. Our recycled flake is also suitable for DGrade’s sustainable Greenspun™ yarn production.
Until recently there was almost no recycled PET packaging produced within the UAE. Through our sophisticated recycling process, we deliver a high-quality flake that can be used to produce recycled plastic food and non-food packaging.
In what manner you ensure that your operations are green?
Recycling plastic in itself is green as it diverts plastic from landfill and saves resources.
In terms of our operations, we have built a customized water treatment system that utilizes a reverse osmosis process to recycle up to 85% of water used during the plastic recycling process.
Other materials that may enter the plastic recycling stream such as bottle caps and labels are cleaned, shredded and provided to manufacturers to produce other recycled items, such as the reusable bags that we have made for supermarkets and industrial plastic pallets (instead of wood).
Which markets do you cater to and what are your future plans for expansion?
Our primary market has been the UAE, but we are expanding across the GCC in terms of feedstock for recycling and supplying recycled flake to packaging manufacturers. We always want to minimize our environmental footprint so we are careful to ensure that we try to buy and sell as locally as possible.
Tell us something about DGRADE's Capacity and Achievements?
We opened the DGrade flake factory in 2022 and recently reached our first milestone of recycling 200 million bottles.
However, the factory has the capacity to process 22,000 metric tonnes of plastic bottles a year – that’s about 1 billion plastic bottles and we are on our way to achieving that number within the next 2 years.
We are also proud of the expansion of our Simply Bottles recycling initiative that works with over 320 schools, events and businesses to educate and engage people in recycling and a circular economy.
Many people believe that plastic is very damaging for the environment, and we should avoid it completely. How does this view affect the future of DGrade?
Despite what many people think plastic is a very green packaging option.
Compared to making a plastic bottle for example, making a glass bottle requires twice as much energy and produces more than four times the amount of greenhouse gases, while making an aluminum can produces more than twice the amount of carbon emissions and uses significantly more energy compared to producing a bottle from plastic.
There are more plant-based plastics coming onto the market, but these come with their own environmental challenges.
Firstly, the agriculture requirements for growing these materials require land and water, they produce their own carbon emission during processing, and most cannot easily be recycled as they require industrial composters with specific conditions.
The reality is that we do need to reduce our consumption as a society, but we also need to be realistic and ensure that the options we choose are in fact the most sustainable. We believe that the solution DGrade provides is truly sustainable.
How do DGrade's activities align with the year of Sustainability and COP28?
The UAE has several sustainability goals including diverting waste from landfill, reducing carbon emissions, and establishing local sustainable manufacturing. DGrade perfectly aligns with all these goals as we provide a local, sustainable solution for plastic.
Recycling plastic produces 55% fewer CO2 emissions compared to making virgin plastic polymers. This addresses one of the key issues of COP28, climate change.
Where does DGRADE source the raw materials from and how organisations can recycle with DGrade?
Recycling rates of plastic in the Middle East are generally very low at less than 10%.
Through our Simply Bottles Recycling initiative we facilitate plastic collection from our partners – in this way we can ensure that we receive quality feedstock and can maximize the recycling.
We also run a range of activities including seminars, workshops and desert clean-ups to educate and engage people in recycling.
We mainly source plastic from waste management partners in the UAE and GCC.
With about 10 million plastic bottles produced every day in the UAE, there is plenty of plastic for DGrade to recycle – we just need the support of companies and communities to capture it before it goes to landfill. Businesses, schools or events interested in recycling in the UAE, Bahrain and other GCC countries can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.