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NOVA Chemicals offers plan to build circular plastics economy

Calgary-based chemicals company outlines latest ESG strategy

NOVA Chemicals' technicians at work. (Courtesy NOVA Chemicals)

NOVA Chemicals Corporation (NOVA) is embarking on an ambitious mission to become the leading sustainable polyethylene producer in North America.

The Calgary-based industrial giant has outlined an ESG strategy that would put it at the forefront of the movement to create a thriving circular economy for plastics.

In keeping with its Roadmap for Sustainability Leadership, NOVA has set forth a series of benchmarks it intends to reach by 2030 as part of its drive toward decarbonization.

These goals include:

  • boosting the market for recycled polyethylene (the most common form of plastic) so recycled material will account for 30 per cent of its polyethylene sales; and
  • reducing its absolute Scope 1 and Scope 2 carbon dioxide emissions by 30 per cent.

In addition, NOVA expects to invest between $2 billion and $4 billion to build what it describes as a "state-of-the-art" mechanical recycling operation, and develop advanced recycling technologies that will deliver a wider range of new, sustainable and low-carbon plastic products to the market.

In announcing these goals, NOVA CEO Danny Dweik said his company is committed to becoming "a responsible steward of our environment" and intends to achieve net-zero by 2050.

"Plastic products play an essential role in our daily lives," Dweik said in an announcement outlining the company's initiatives. "With our renewed purpose of reshaping plastics for a better, more sustainable world, we have developed a clear pathway to become a catalyst for a low-carbon, zero-plastic-waste future."

Reducing the carbon footprint across the value chain

Dweik's vision comes from a plastics industry often associated with the degradation of the environment. But NOVA's sustainability roadmap is reflective of the heightened awareness among manufacturing industries to reduce their carbon footprint at every stage of the production process, from input to output, all along the value chain.

NOVA is one of the largest polyethylene resin makers in North America and employs a global workforce of almost 2,500, most of whom are based in Canada at its Calgary headquarters and in manufacturing plants in Joffre, Alta. and Sarnia-Lambton, Ont.

In 2022, the company registered $6.02 billion in revenue.

"Our industry has been responding to a broad range of changes in public policy, consumer demand, and supply chain management," Rocky Vermani, senior vice-president of supply chain and inNOVAtion at NOVA, told SustainableBiz.

"NOVA has been working diligently to set and finalize ambitious aspirations that are both meaningful and achievable. At 30 per cent Scope 1 and 2 emissions (within operational control) reduction by 2030 from a 2020 baseline, our aspiration is aligned to the leaders in our industry and within our peer group. Our aspiration recognizes there will continue to be strong demand for polyethylene products through this period, while proposing effective solutions that will help NOVA drive the transition to lower carbon, circular plastics."

NOVA Chemicals' Joffre, Alta. manufacturing plant. (Courtesy NOVA Chemicals)


NOVA is currently making its most important contribution through the launch of its SYNDIGO rPE brand — rPE stands for recycled polyethylene. This is the company's first brand to feature mechanically recycled polyethylene resins made from 100 per cent post-consumer recycled content.

NOVA now produces four commercial products under the SYNDIGO label, all made of circular polymers, including an FDA-compliant resin for food packaging.

In the coming years, NOVA will rely on advances in recycling technology to accelerate the rollout of more plastic products made entirely from recycled plastic.

"Both mechanical and advanced technologies are improving (our capability) of producing high-performing and high-quality recycled polyethylene," Vermani said.

The most serious sustainability obstacle faced by the plastics industry is the general lack of recycling infrastructure and what NOVA believes to be inadequate government standards regulating the process.

Today, the recycling rate for plastics is nine per cent. This figure is not only a major impediment to the greening of the environment, but also hampers companies within the sector in raising the proportion of recycled materials in the production of plastic products.

However, as the production of SYNDIGO goods and similar products across the sector rises, this increased demand for recycled materials should produce a corresponding increase in the supply of plastic products that can only be achieved by more efficient collection and recycling programs.

This is the basis for the creation of a sweeping circular plastics product line that would enable NOVA to achieve its stated target of 30 per cent recycled polyethylene sales by 2030.

Proprietary AST tech resins

NOVA is also counting on its proprietary Advanced SCLAIRTECHTM technology (AST) to enhance its product range through the use of advanced new materials.

These new plastic offerings are heralded by NOVA's first Astute polyolefin plastomers line, which will provide customers with better alternatives with respect to supplying sustainability-focused end markets such as electric vehicles and renewable energy.

"Our AST technology offers unique benefits that aren’t broadly available in the polyethylene market," Vermani said. "For example, our new resins . . . offer unrivalled moisture barrier properties, ensuring shelf-life and product freshness . . . and (new) plastomers provide best-in-class sealing and optimal performance for package integrity and superior aesthetics."

The AST resins allow converters and packaging designers to create mono-material structures that are more easily recyclable and withstand the demands of an omni-channel supply chain, which minimizes food waste, Vermani continued. The AST resins also favour incorporating higher levels of recycled content because of their "unique molecular architecture, which can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of a given package," he said.

Plastics producers unite over "common needs and goals"

According to Vermani, NOVA's decarbonization program will benefit from a collaborative effort across the industrial spectrum "where we have common needs and goals" and where technological advances will benefit all major plastics players.

These include increasing carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) capabilities, advancing recycling, evolving energy efficiency and electrification projects, and adoption of clean hydrogen and other renewable energy technologies.
NOVA is counting on achieving significant reductions in its industrial production emissions through its proprietary Low Emissions Ethylene Process technology.

The company has also concluded a virtual power purchase agreement with Shell Energy to supply renewable power, which NOVA hopes will be the first step toward increasing the proportion of low-carbon, renewable energy in its power portfolio.

The company believes it has the technology in place to achieve its ambitious ESG aspirations and that it has devised an "actionable and achievable roadmap" to meet its sustainability targets.

"Our technical experts at our Calgary-based research facilities work continuously to improve the recyclability of today’s applications and redesign packaging to meet the demands of a circular economy, including the incorporation of recycled polyethylene," Vermani said.

"We will continue focusing on mechanical recycling to address today's needs, while also exploring advanced recycling technologies that can create high-quality, high-performance recyclable and low-carbon plastics for tomorrow."

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