E Timor aims to be first plastic-neutral nation

Thomson Reuters Foundation, KUALA LUMPUR

Sat, May 18, 2019 - Page 6

In a region where seas are awash with trash, East Timor is set to become the world’s first country to recycle all of its plastic waste after it yesterday teamed up with Australian researchers to build a revolutionary recycling plant.

The US$40 million plant would ensure that no plastic, once used in the Southeast Asian nation, would become waste, but would instead be turned into new products.

Dili said that it had signed a memorandum of understanding with Australia’s Mura Technology to establish a nonprofit called RESPECT that would run the plastic recycling plant, expected to launch by the end of next year.

“This is a small country where we can make a statement — making the whole country the first to be plastic neutral, in a region where there is the largest pollution of marine life,” said Thomas Maschmeyer, coinventor of the recycling technology to be used in the new plant.

“Plastic — if you don’t dispose of it well — is a terrible thing, [but] if you can dispose of it well, it’s a great thing,” Maschmeyer told reporters.

In many parts of Asia, fast-growing economies and populations, coupled with huge coastlines and densely populated cities, have filled local seas with trash and plastic waste.

Garbage collection services and infrastructure have largely failed to keep pace with rapid development.

More than 8 million tonnes of plastics are dumped in the world’s oceans each year, scientists have said — about a truckload per minute.

China, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Thailand are among the top culprits, waste experts have said.

Aside from the effects this has on human health and wildlife, 21-strong APEC group has said that it costs the region’s tourism, fishing and shipping industries about US$1.3 billion per year.

Impoverished East Timor, with a population of just 1.3 million, generates about 70 tonnes of plastic waste each day, according to government data, most of which is collected from beaches and urban areas, then burned in the open.

The new plant would use chemical technology to quickly turn plastic waste into liquid or gas without adding mineral oil, which no other recycler can do as well, Maschmeyer said.

“The issue with plastic is what you do when you’ve finished using that product,” said Maschmeyer, who teaches at the University of Sydney. “In our case, we can chemically recycle it and put it back into the circular economy.”

Run at no cost to Asia’s youngest democracy, all profits would go toward supporting community projects and waste collectors in East Timor, which must first find funding to build the recycling facility.

“This is an exciting collaboration for us,” East Timorese State Secretary for the Environment Demetrio do Amaral de Carvalho said.

“Not only will it make a big difference in plastic waste reduction and reduce harm to our cherished marine life, but Timor-Leste can be an example to the rest of the world,” he said in a statement.

The same technology is currently planned for other recycling plants in Canada, Australia and Britain.

If successful, RESPECT would be used as a model for other developing countries suffocating in plastic waste.