Reducing the plastic waste inflow to the sea

Plastic littering into Oceans is one of the world’s major environmental problems. SINTEF researchers will now try to exploit the opportunities offered by the waste.
Removing the microplastic and plastic wastes from the oceans is a difficult task. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has received a lot of attention in recent years. Recently, a sea-going vessel belonging to “Ocean Clean-up” is returning to San Francisco with damaged booms after four months in the water attempting to remove some of the waste accumulated on the ocean.

Insufficient waste management in Asian emerging countries
The best strategy is to try to prevent plastic waste ending up in the oceans at the first place, says chief research scientist Kåre Helge Karstensen from SINTEF.
The largest part of the litter comes from industrial areas and landfills into the large rivers, especially in Asia. If waste treatment in these areas is improved, especially in emerging countries and economies, future inflows can be significantly reduced.

Ocean plastic can be transformed to a resource in the circular economy

Chief research scientist, Kåre Helge Karstensen, and executive vice president, Hanne Rønneberg, at SINTEF looking forward to contributing in an exciting project. Photo: Remy Eik

The researchers will demonstrate this in the project “Ocean Plastic Turned into an Opportunity in Circular Economy” (OPTOCE) led by SINTEF and financed by Norwegian development assistance program against marine litter and microplastics.

Norway has played a global leadership role in the fight in favour of clean and healthy oceans. Marine litter is one of the greatest environmental challenges of our time, and it is crucial that we reduce the plastic waste intrusion in the seas and oceans. “The Norwegian government has established a separate assistance program for marine litter, and we are very pleased to support SINTEF’s new project. SINTEF has extensive experience in this field with required expertise and technical support needed to create new solutions”, says Development Minister Dag-Inge Ulstein.

The project aims at demonstrating new win-win solutions for waste management where non-recyclable plastic waste is used as energy source in local, energy-intensive industry in line with circular economy approach, says Karstensen.

Such a practice will significantly increase waste treatment capacity, reduce the need for landfill and incineration, reduce the use of non-renewable energy sources and raw materials in energy-intensive industries, and thus reduce greenhouse emissions.

Regional co-operation in Asia

SINTEF has introduced and demonstrated the concept of using waste as an energy resource in several Asian countries during the past 20 years, including in a twelve-year project in China on hazardous waste management. The idea was met with scepticism when it was launched in 2005. However nowadays, resource optimization and circular economy are a key strategy in Chinese waste management.

“Now we want to bring this up to a multilateral level in order to contribute to increased awareness of the plastic problem and to speed up solutions that can reduce plastic recharge to the oceans,” says Karstensen.

Waste dragged out of the Three Gorge dam, Yangtze, China. Photo: Kåre Helge Karstensen

Partner countries are currently China, India, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar but final participation will depend on the countries’ willingness to engage with their own resources. It may also be relevant to include other countries.

A regional forum will be established to promote sharing the lessons-learnt, experiences and knowledge continuously, and hopefully stimulate the uptake of the cost-effective and sustainable solutions in other places.

“The challenges associated with the plastic pollution and waste are of a global nature and are most effectively solved by international interaction. The project will also contribute to reaching the UN’s sustainability goal for 2030”, concludes Karstensen.

The duration of the project is three years and has a budget of 46 million Norwegian Kroners.