Endeavor to create a circular economy
Biomass strategy and Recycling strategy
On the issue of plastics—which are mainstay products of the Mitsui Chemicals Group—we are focusing on the following two strategies that cover the entire supply chain. By implementing these strategies and addressing the problem of marine plastic waste, we will continue to promote resource recycling and endeavor to create a circular economy.
Biomass strategy: Expanding lineup of bio-based plastic products
Bio-based plastics made from plants—which grow by absorbing carbon dioxide—are attracting much attention as a possible substitute for conventional petroleum-derived plastics. As we believe that a shift to biomass feedstock encourages the recycling of resources, curbs the use of new fossil fuels, and therefore helps mitigate climate change, we aim to expand our lineup of bio-based plastic products.
Case: Starting production and sales of Japan’s first bio-based chemicals and plastics from bio-based hydrocarbons
The Mitsui Chemicals Group has introduced bio-based hydrocarbons produced by Neste Corporation (in Finland) from renewable raw materials, such as bio-based waste and residue oils, as feedstock for our naphtha crackers at our Osaka Works. At the same time, we have started producing and marketing renewable chemicals (such as phenol and acetone) and bio-polypropylene (PP) under the mass balance approach, which allows for the allocation of bio-based content to specific products. In order to expand the lineup of bio-based hydrocarbon derivatives that we can offer, we are currently in the process of obtaining ISCC PLUS certification for a variety of our products.
Furthermore, in fiscal 2021 we procured a total of 6,000 tons of bio-based hydrocarbons. Moving forward, we will increase the amount procured in order to meet demand, and contribute to the popularization of renewable chemicals and bio-based chemicals and plastics.
Mass balance method
Mitsui Chemicals produces bio-based chemicals and plastics by mixing fossil-derived naphtha with bio-based hydrocarbons in the manufacturing process. These products are made of mixtures of fossil-derived and bio-based raw materials, but we allocate the share of bio-based raw materials used during production only to specific products and provide them to customers. This method is called the mass balance method. In this method, products allocated with the share of bio-based raw materials can be considered to be "100% bio-based," enabling the companies to meet diverse biomass product needs of their customers. The mass balance method has already been widely applied in the paper, palm oil, and other industries, and is expected to become more common in the chemical industry in the future. We have acquired a third-party certification (ISCC PLUS certification) to prove that we properly manage and run the mass balance method in a reliable way. The Group believes that this method will play an important role not only for biomass products, but also as a scheme to help expand the portfolio of recycled chemical products in the future.
Recycling strategy: Promoting plastic recycling
As social issues related to waste management, such as resource depletion and the problem of marine plastic waste, become more serious, the Group considers waste plastics and other materials as resources, and is promoting initiatives to effectively utilize them. Promoting resource circulation through recycling can contribute to not only effective utilization of resources such as reduction of fossil raw materials and fuels, but also reduction of waste through recycling of waste plastics and reduction of GHG emissions throughout the value chain. Through the development of new materials, recycling systems, and value chains, we will make the circle of the circular economy bigger and broader, such as through chemical and mechanical recycling of waste plastic, development of mono-material packaging, and support for startup businesses.
Case: Development of chemical recycling technology using microwaves
Chemicals borne out of chemical recycling can be used in the production of new materials such as plastics, without compromising on quality in even the most sensitive applications. This fact makes it a promising complementary solution for recycling waste plastic that is not suitable for mechanical recycling. Based on a strategic alliance with Microwave Chemical Co., Ltd., we are working on the joint development of chemical recycling technology using microwaves.
Microwaves are electromagnetic waves used in household microwave oven and in the field of telecommunications. Being able to transfer energy to materials directly and selectively, microwaves have the potential to make conventional chemical processes significantly more energy-efficient. Furthermore, microwaves can be made from electricity, making them an environmentally harmonious technology that could contribute to the reduction of CO2 through the utilization of renewable energy. We are working on the chemical recycling of conventionally difficult-to-recycle, like automobile shredder dust (ASR), a polypropylene-based mixed plastic, thermosetting seat molding compound (SMC), which is used in items such as bathtubs and automobile parts, and flexible polyurethane foam, which is used in items such as mattresses. All of them have achieved good results in the initial study. In the future, we plan to start demonstration testing as soon as possible after conducting verification testing at a bench facility.
Case: Verification experiment on the commercialization of mechanical recycling - Recycled eco-benches produced through the Japan Circular Economy Partnership (J-CEP)
Mitsui Chemicals has joined J-CEP, a new business partnership of industry, government and academia engaged in promoting the circular economy, as a joint managing company. J-CEP participated as a partner organization in the initiative to establish a “collection station dedicated to plastic resources,” which is led by Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture, and Amita Holdings Co., Ltd., and conducted a demonstration experiment to set up a resource collection station with a community space at Futaba Gakusha in Nagata-ku, Kobe City for about three months from November 2021. In general, it is said that recycling plastic waste from households is difficult because it is often poorly sorted. Futaba Gakusha identified the collected plastics (containers, etc.) and asked residents to clean and bring them in with the aim of facilitating the subsequent recycling process.
In addition, we intentionally mixed several different types of plastics such as PP (polypropylene), PE (polyethylene), PET (polyethylene terephthalate), and PS (polystyrene) and added our adhesive polyolefin “Admer™” to create a recycled eco-bench with our trademark “Recycled Inside” to indicate that it contains recycled materials inside even though they are not visible from outside. Admer™ contributes greatly to the promotion of plastic recycling not only by compatibilizing different plastics, but also as a recycling agent that reduces the loss of strength and impact resistance.
A key “PLAYER” creating the future: Toward value co-creation and social implementation through the value chain
A significant social transformation is necessary to realize carbon neutrality and a circular economy society. As a materials manufacturer that supports life infrastructure of the population, the Mitsui Chemicals Group has the potential to change people’s lifestyles from the ground up. Recognizing this strength and role, we have the responsibility to broadly provide cross-Group solutions to society. In order to fulfil this responsibility, it is important to continue proactive communications and gain societal recognition as a comprehensive solutions company in the field of carbon neutrality and circular economy. To this end, the Group has launched two brands with the key messages of “we explore the materials of materials” and “we’re reshaping the world from a material level”—BePLAYER™, which achieves carbon neutrality with biomass, and RePLAYER™, which creates a circular economy through recycling. By promoting both of these solution brands, which aim to utilize renewable resources and manage stock resources, we aim to resolve multi-faceted and complex social challenges, and take sustainability a step further and provide regenerative lifestyles from the material level.
Looking back, the history of Mitsui Chemicals is also a history of switching to alternative raw materials. Starting with the production of chemical fertilizers from the byproduct gas of coal coke in 1912, we have expanded our business while switching raw materials and shifting to the chemical business using gas and petroleum naphtha as raw materials. Now is the time for a shift to the chemical business using biomass and recycled resources as raw materials. With the two brands at the center of communications with society, we aim to contribute to the realization of carbon neutrality and a circular economy society and achieve further growth by once again switching to alternative raw materials.
Problem of marine plastic waste
The problem of marine plastic waste owes to plastics that have escaped from the process for recycling resources and ended up in marine environments due to inappropriate waste management. Preventing plastic waste from leaking into rivers and the sea is of utmost importance, and requires a united effort by companies in the entire plastics supply chain.
We are tackling this problem by participating in global alliances such as the Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW) as well as the Japan Clean Ocean Material Alliance (CLOMA) and the Japan Initiative for Marine Environment (JaIME).
Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW)
Established in 2019. Signatories to the AEPW include global companies involved in the plastic value chain, such as chemical and plastic manufacturers, retailers, and waste management companies across the world. The Alliance is committed to the goal of investing $1.5 billion until 2024 to help end plastic waste and contribute to a sustainable society by driving progress in four key areas: infrastructure development to manage waste, innovation, education & engagement activities and clean-up activities. (As of June 2022, the AEPW has 70 corporations actively participating.)
Clean Ocean Material Alliance (CLOMA)
The Alliance was established in January, 2019 as a platform for strengthening coordination among a broad range of interested parties across various industries. To date, the organization has engaged in technical information sharing among members and organized partner matching opportunities. In May 2020, the CLOMA Action Plan was released with the aim of achieving a package recycling rate of 60% by 2030 and a plastic product recycling rate of 100% by 2050. The activities it specifies include studying concrete measures and plans for demonstration tests. (As of June 2022, 468 corporations are participating.)
Japan Initiative for the Marine Environment (JaIME)
In September 2018, the Initiative is established by Japanese five chemical industry associations such as the Japan Chemical Industry Association. With the participation of Japanese corporations and organizations in the chemical industry, it communicates the findings on lifecycle assessments (LCA) of the environmental impacts of various recycling and energy recovery methods. In February 2020, the activities it organized to support developing Asian countries in upgrading their plastic waste management capabilities included a training seminar that presented the knowledge and experience of the Japanese participants.