Sustainable Development Goals

Organizations Involved:
VA Energy, Owl Energy, Thailand Board of Investment, a local oil refinery, and several plastic recyclers
Due Diligence, Supply Chain Management, Component Supply, Operator Training

The Challenge:

Despite ongoing efforts in South East Asia as a whole, in Thailand, plastic waste leaking into the marine environment remains a significant problem. In 2019, the Government of Thailand released the Roadmap for Plastic Waste Management 2018-2030 and is developing the National Action Plan on Marine Plastic Debris to alleviate the current impacts and avert future damage caused by marine plastic debris. While these efforts are critical steps toward controlling the country’s plastic pollution problem, further insight is needed into where the plastic waste comes from and how it moves in the environment. According to a recent study and report completed by The World Bank called the Plastic Waste Material Flow Analysis for Thailand: Summary Report the resulting data underpins the finding and outlines the sheer volume of the problem.

Despite a high municipal solid waste collection and recycling rate of 88.8% in Thailand, remaining uncollected plastic waste and many unsanitary disposal facilities result in an estimated 428 kton/year of mismanaged plastic waste. Most mismanaged plastic waste that is available for wash-off to rivers and the marine environment (defined as ‘exposed mismanaged plastic waste’) is generated in rural areas (70.1%) which have lower collection rates and contains the most disposal facilities. Bangkok contributes 18.4% of exposed mismanaged plastic waste due to the large overall volumes of waste generated and uncollected and a large amount of uncollected waste in the Chao Phraya catchment is disposed directly into waterways.

Ten districts (of 247 in total) account for 51.7% of the total exposed mismanaged plastic waste in the high-priority catchments. These are all situated in or near Bangkok and are relatively close to the marine environment. Across four high-priority catchments (excluding Mae Klong), on average, 47.6% of mismanaged waste that ends up in the rivers is discharged into the marine environment. An annual average total of 9.3 kton/year of plastic waste is discharged into the marine environment from four high-priority catchments (see figure below; numbers are excluding Mae Klong).

This is equivalent to a marine plastic footprint of 0.4 kg/capita/year. During particularly rainy years this may increase to 14.3 kton/year, while it may be as low as 4.9 kton/year in drier years. In tourist hotspots, its estimated a total of 16.8 kton/year of mismanaged plastic waste is generated, with the source varying across the tourist hotspots. According to the report linked above, there is an estimated 0.7 kton/year of exposed mismanaged plastic waste which is leaked into the environment primarily from unsanitary disposal facilities in cities and from uncollected waste in the more rural areas. The lack of reliable hydrological data in the tourist hotspots resulted in unreliable results for the transport of exposed mismanaged plastic waste to the marine environment.

This situation is out of control and additional insight into the sources and pathways of plastic waste in the environment is needed to target policies and investments to create positive change if there is any hope for the circular economy to flourish in Thailand. 

The Solution:

In 2015 VA Energy a private limited company was established in Thailand. The company was incorporated by 3 young, dynamic, and visionary businessmen ready to take on the waste plastic crisis facing Thailand. The company was also registered under BOI (Board of Investments in Thailand) and achieved the acquisition of an Oil Refinery and Processing License from the Government of Thailand. The Company has also obtained all the necessary clearances and certificates to operate the business in Thailand.

With all of the necessary permits, VA Energy became one of a kind, listed as the 1st Independent Oil Producer (IOP) in Thailand that used waste plastic as the raw material and produce high-quality industry-grade pyrolytic oil. The first oil production facility was installed and commissioned in the Banga-phli area outside Bangkok, Thailand in Feb 2018. As a result, the company continues to look at the possibility of expanding its business horizons by partnering with key industrial players in Thailand and other South-East Asian Countries.

The aim was to set up a pilot plant that featured state-of-the-art plastic pyrolysis equipment, where plastic waste is converted into oil. This pilot project held the significant potential to contribute to the circular economy of Thailand. This facility was a batch process that was designed by a Korean company. However, the project did experience technical challenges with operation performance, problems which we later fixed as a result of continued engineering. Feedstock quality was also a challenge initially but it was later sorted out with the feedstock suppliers where quality assurance measures were put in place. Additionally, due to the nature of batch pyrolysis processing, a rigorous maintenance program was implemented as a result of continued plant fouling. As a result of significant process improvements and continued operation improvements, VA Energy sold this pilot facility as an R&D pilot to continue research into plastic-to-fuel applications.

The company is now in process of developing a significantly larger project which will use commercial-grade equipment that is more suitable for extended continuous operation for the production of higher-quality outputs. 

The Outcome:

  • An estimated 5,000 TPA of mixed plastics waste diverted from landfill and the marine environment
  • An estimated 8,000 to 10,000 liters of oil could be recovered for reuse each day
  • An estimated 2.5m liters a year of green diesel-grade fuels and heating oil generated from plastic waste
  • An estimated 15,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide offset
  • Preservation of fossil fuels by integration of oil back into the refining of new fuels
  • New jobs and taxes generated from the green economy
This project addresses the SDGs by taking into account the following goals and associated targets. It contributes to ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns by coming up with a sustainable waste treatment framework (Goal 12). Through a safe and inclusive waste disposal system, the SDG strives to protect ecosystems and prevent biodiversity loss (Goal 15)