Earth Day 2018: the war on plastic

Published on Sunday, 22 April 2018

“We adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals outlined in Agenda 2030 as part of our strategy from the outset, particularly those relating to access to energy, slowing climate change and access to education and equitable economic growth”

– Andrea Valcalda, Enel’s Head of Sustainability

Turning plastic into energy

In January, the European Commission adopted the “A European strategy for plastic in a circular economy” document which aims to make 100% of packaging recyclable by 2030 (just 30% of the 25.8 million tonnes of plastic waste produced today is recycled). For quite some time now, Enel has been driving projects in this direction in the nations in which it has a presence.

Having signed up to a partnership with the NGO Liter of Lights at COP21 in Paris, Enel began turning plastic bottles and recycled materials into solar energy lights. This innovative idea was launched by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and helps bring zero emissions lighting to the world’s most disadvantaged communities in line with Agenda 2030’s SDG7. Through the partnership, which is part of Enel’s Enabling Electricity programme, our Group has set up laboratories in several different nations, including Mexico and South Africa. In the case of the latter, in Nojoli in the Eastern Cape region, a wind farm (which is capable of generating in excess of 275 GWh per year) has been connected to the grid (thus preventing the creation of over 251,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually). Not only that, plastic bottles will now also be turned into 55 W solar lights as part of the rural electrification scheme. All that is needed for this process are ordinary plastic containers, some water, an electric circuit made from recycled materials, a LED, a solar panel and a recyclable lithium battery. A total of 18 Solar Bottles and 25 lanterns were made in the first laboratory course, which began in 2016 and was attended by 60 people.

In the Brazilian states of Cearà and Rio de Janeiro, the Ecoenel programme (a winner at the 2008 World Business and Development Awards) offers consumers who recycle waste, particularly plastics, discounts on their electricity bills. And the resources are there aplenty: at 250 tonnes per day, Brazil is the world’s third largest waste producer. In the areas where it has the concession for the supply of electricity, Ecoenel plans to install 74 “ecopontos” where people can leave their sorted rubbish. From there, it will be sent to recycling plants for sustainable reuse. A special waste sorting and recycling marathon race for teams was also organised to incentivise the sorting of waste for recycling.

The art of recycling was promoted in the areas of Italy that were hit by an earthquake in 2016, by involving 70 elementary school pupils in Abruzzo in three different workshops: waste materials were reused to make not just toys but also works of art, as well as costumes and accessories for a recycling-themed theatre show.

From recycling to the cradle

Recycling our waste is definitely a positive way of cutting plastic pollution. But the idea of waste itself needs to be done away with, by revolutionising the way goods are designed and manufactured through what has been dubbed the “Cradle to Cradle” model by German chemist Michael Braungart. This involves giving back to nature whatever we take from it. That is why Enel is committed to increasing its renewable energy production, by creating hybrid plants that bring together storage, solar and wind energy. One example is the Ollagüe project in Chile’s Atacama Desert, but Enel Green Power’s innovative solutions also extend to harnessing the power of the sea. Indeed it is estimated that over the next decade wave power will be used to generate at least 130 GW.

E-mobility is another sector that can radically change the way we live our lives by combining car sharing with innovatively using e-cars which can double as mobile batteries and grid stabilisers, thanks to Vehicle-to-Grid technology.

The Futur-e project also has a circular economy focus, as it will give a new lease of life to 23 thermoelectric power stations in Italy. These facilities supported Italy’s industrial growth for decades and now, thanks to collaborations with the local areas and the creation of shared value, they will have new stories of sustainable development and innovation to tell.

All our Group’s projects are gathered together and presented in our Sustainability Report. They are the result of work that will never cease because as far as Enel is concerned, every day is Earth Day.