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Environmental Management

Goals

In 2020, Borealis’ goals were to:

  • carry out a full water inventory and water risk assessment, across all locations;
  • fully roll-out split flaring for all plants, with visualisation in the environmental and energy data management tool and in the monthly key performance indicator (KPI) follow-up tool;
  • carry out Operation Clean Sweep (OCS) health checks on all Borealis Polyolefins (PO) locations to evaluate compliance with the OCS core requirements; and
  • promote the use of the upgraded environmental and energy data management system.

Key Achievements and Results

During 2020, Borealis:

  • carried out a full water inventory and water risk assessment, across all locations, with the results to be evaluated and compiled at the beginning of 2021;
  • resolved all technical issues to enable a full roll-out of split flaring for all plants, with visualisation in the environmental and energy data management tool and the monthly KPI follow-up tool;
  • updated the roadmap for zero non-emergency flaring, with further actions defined and discussions to derive a new flaring ambition continuing in 2021; and
  • performed internal audits on all Borealis European PO locations, against the OCS core requirements. Actions to rectify any gaps have been defined to enable all locations to go for external certification.

Introduction

The most relevant environmental impacts Borealis creates are those coming from emissions that contribute to climate change, acidification and eutrophication, and the effect on air quality and human health.

Borealis’ emissions to air result from its production processes and from combustion for energy generation. In addition to carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, these emissions comprise:

  • nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions created by the burners in steam boilers, thermal oxidisers, flares and furnaces;
  • volatile organic compounds (VOC), which are fugitive emissions of hydrocarbons, occurring due to high pressure and temperature; and
  • dust and ammonia (NH3) emissions from production and handling solid material in fertilizer plants.

Flaring is a necessary safety measure used in the Group’s hydrocarbon and polyolefin plants, in which excess gases which cannot be recovered or recycled are safely burned. However, it also causes a small proportion of the Group’s CO2 emissions as well as NOx emissions, inefficient use of the Group’s resources, nuisance to Borealis’ neighbours and legal implications.

Borealis requires water for its operations. Industrial water, for which purity standards are less strict than for drinking water, is used for production purposes in processes such as cooling, steam generation and product handling. Lower quantities of water are needed for drinking, cleaning, sanitary and firefighting purposes. The Group looks to minimise its water use by recycling water in its production process. It also looks to improve the quality of the water it discharges and to comply with its legal obligations through filtration, neutralisation and biological wastewater treatment.

The most common types of waste produced in Borealis’ operations include the non-recyclable polymer fraction of the polymer waste input to our recycling plants, excavated soil, wastewater treatment sludge, solvents, mixed industrial waste and inert construction material. Borealis aims to minimise the production of waste where possible, but its main objective is to treat waste as a resource and to better handle products at end of life by making them circular.

The loss of plastic pellets and particles could lead to marine litter and emissions of NOx, dust and VOC could affect the air quality of the Group’s neighbours. If such failures occurred, they could result in fines, loss of business, reputational damage, loss of permits and enforcement action by the relevant authorities, all of which could affect the Group’s financial performance.

Managing Environmental Impacts

Borealis’ approach to environmental management encompasses managing its emissions to air, its use of water and discharge of wastewater, its production and use of secondary resources in the form of waste, and its overall environmental compliance.

Borealis is committed to implementing the guidelines of the Responsible Care® Global Charter, the chemical industry’s voluntary commitment for continuous improvements in health, safety and environmental (HSE) performance as well as the Product Stewardship standard of Fertilizer Europe. In 2020, Fertilizer Europe conducted an external audit of the Group’s fertilizer plants.

At least every three years, the Group performs a detailed and systematic environmental risk and opportunity assessment for every plant in all locations. The assessments are also performed if there have been major changes, near misses, incidents or accidents or if potential improvements have been identified. The risk assessments are based on an evaluation of the legal framework and possible upcoming changes, any deviations from permit limits and stakeholder input.

Based on these assessments, Borealis defines and documents HSE objectives and targets for each location. Clear responsibilities and timelines are agreed and reviewed at the Group HSE level twice a year. The consolidated outcomes, including HSE performance, are reported to the Executive Board.

In 2019, the Group carried out a sustainability materiality assessment. This confirmed that reducing CO2 emissions and energy consumption are the main drivers of Borealis’ performance improvement and have the biggest impact on the environment. It also confirmed that the circular economy is a key driver, including a strong focus on packaging waste management.

Nevertheless, emissions to air of NOx, NH3, dust and VOC as well as water, waste and effluents also play a significant role in high-quality HSE management. As a consequence, they are included in the Group’s HSE management process and are monitored as part of the environmental objective of each location. All Borealis production locations are part of an ISO 14001 compliant environmental management system.

Borealis uses an integrated environmental data management system and reporting software. This ensures control of data flows from varied sources, in multiple formats and on different schedules as well as the traceability and transparency required for reporting and auditing.

Borealis is committed to complying with all relevant environmental laws, regulations, standards and other legal requirements, such as operational permits. This ensures the Group can continue to operate and is protected from fines, reputational damage and the costs of impact mitigation.

The Group reviews all cases of non-compliance and takes action to prevent them from reoccurring. In 2020, no significant fines or non-monetary sanctions for non-compliance with environmental laws were imposed on Borealis.

Activities and Performance 2020

Emissions to Air

With all emissions, the Group follows its legal requirements and the stipulations in its permits. In addition, Borealis has established its own requirements for measuring and following up on key pollutants. Deviations from the norm are reported within the Borealis incident management system and then investigated and addressed through corrective actions. The approach taken depends on the magnitude of the emissions’ impact and their criticality.

Actions are prioritised using the principles contained in the Group’s Risk Management Policy, in line with Borealis’ general sustainability management approach. High-risk items and proposals with significant potential for improvement are regularly discussed and addressed to the Executive Board.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) Emissions
Borealis’ goal is to reduce its VOC emissions by detecting and repairing leaks quickly. In 2020, Borealis’ VOC emissions were 2,942 tonnes, compared to 3,122 tonnes in 2019.

Flaring
Flaring losses in 2020 were 42.5 kilotonnes, compared to 27.6 kilotonnes in 2019. The effort to reduce upsets and implement flaring improvements continued, but severe upsets led to significant emergency flaring during shut-downs due to a lack of recycling capacity.

Flaring performance 2016–2020

Every year, the Group defines its targets for flaring. Turnarounds, regular maintenance of the plant’s assets and other internal and external factors require ongoing adaptation. In particular, flaring increases in years with higher numbers of turnarounds. These regular maintenance programmes inevitably lead to more flaring as plants or lines must be shut down, emptied and ramped up again. This is one of the drivers of the increase in 2020 against 2019. Additionally, Borealis had two major emergency shut-downs of the Stenungsund cracker in Sweden as well as of the cracker in Porvoo, Finland, which contributed significantly to the increase in flaring.

With 17,589 tonnes, non-emergency flaring losses for 2020 were lower than 2019 (19,642 tonnes) and on target (17,536 tonnes), which means that improvement projects have delivered as planned.

Dust Emissions
Dust reduction and prevention is a focus for all Borealis operations and for improvement projects. Dust emissions are continuously measured in the Group’s fertilizer locations, which are the main contributor. Borealis’ polyolefin production plants monitor dust emissions using spot samples, which do not allow for an annual average to be calculated. During 2020, the Group installed a wet electrostatic precipitator in the fertilizer plant at Linz, Austria, to reduce dust emissions by nearly 90%.

Dust emissions from the fertilizer production units totalled 342 tonnes in 2020, compared to 455 tonnes in 2019.

Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) Emissions
Borealis measures most of its NOx emissions, with the remainder being calculated using a standardised emission factor. Absolute NOx emissions in 2020 were 2,842 tonnes, compared to 3,000 tonnes in 2019.

Ammonia (NH3) Emissions
Ammonia emissions are a consequence of either failures during the ammonia production process or leaks during storage or transportation. These emissions amounted to 686 tonnes in 2020, compared to 881 tonnes in 2019.

Sulfur Oxide (SOx) Emissions
Borealis does not produce SOx emissions, as it only uses gaseous fuels (natural gas and hydrocarbons) where no sulfur is present.

Water

Water Withdrawal
Borealis’ water withdrawal was 755 million m3 in 2020, compared to 750 million m3 in 2019. The increase in consumption was due to the reduced turnaround activities and higher cooling water consumption during the summer because of extreme weather conditions.

The majority of the water Borealis uses in its operations is surface water, for example from water bodies such as rivers and oceans. The remainder is extracted from ground water, wastewater from another organisation, municipal water supplies or other water utilities. Rainwater is also collected.

Borealis’ water withdrawal by source in 2020

Water availability or scarcity varies by location. Borealis has not identified any major risk related to water at the locations in which it operates. Borealis’ environmental experts in each operation continuously monitor water consumption as part of the Group’s environmental monitoring programme, and in order to comply with the permit limits set by the respective local authorities.

Water Discharge
The volume and nature of the wastewater Borealis generates depend on the type of production at its locations. Borealis therefore installs water treatment techniques that are appropriate for each plant’s production process. These techniques can include filtration, neutralisation, osmosis, and gravimetric and biological water treatment.

All Borealis locations are connected to wastewater treatment installations, consisting of internal treatment units, external plants or both. In Grandpuits, France, where Borealis has no permit to discharge into the surface water, discharges are made into a special salted groundwater aquifer instead.

Each operation carefully monitors wastewater flows and contaminants to ensure that all parameters are within permitted levels and reports this regularly to the respective authorities.

Recycling and Reusing Water
To increase water use efficiency, Borealis seeks, whenever possible, to recover its process water or to reuse wastewater. For example, in some operations cooling towers use recycled water or rainwater. This is not possible in all locations as it depends on permit stipulations and on the water body.

As noted above, Borealis prioritises reductions in energy consumption and CO2 emissions. As water consumption and energy use are linked, due to the energy recovery from cooling water, the Group may on some occasions decide to increase its water withdrawal in order to recover more energy.

In 2020, a very detailed water inventory and risk assessment was carried out to foster the understanding of water usage, water emissions and water related risks at each site and across the total Group.

At the Ottmarsheim plant in France, modifying the aqueous ammonia plant has enabled the collection of wastewater containing nitrogen, allowing it to be recycled into the production process, reducing the emission of nitrogen to the river and increasing the production of aqueous ammonia.

Waste

Borealis generates waste during production and during short regular shutdowns and plant turnarounds. Turnarounds are regularly scheduled events, during which a plant is temporarily taken out of operation to ensure asset integrity and process safety by carrying out important maintenance works and inspections.

Non-hazardous waste treatment in 2020 *)

*) Environmental data might be subject to minor adjustments due to ongoing audits and missing third-party data at the time this report was finalised.

Borealis monitors waste production and implements control measures in all its operations, based on the requirements of regulations and ISO 14001 standards. The Group has waste management plans for each location, which are coordinated by local environmental experts. All locations follow the “4R” rules: reduce, reuse, recycle and recover.

Borealis’ aim is to avoid producing waste. The Group has therefore implemented integrated manufacturing processes which recover as much co-product as possible.

For example, the CO2 emitted by the ammonia production site in Linz, Austria, is used in the production of urea at the same site. In the fertilizer production process, condensate from steam contains co-products which are reinjected into the process to minimise loss of resources. If a co-product cannot be reused and therefore becomes waste, the Group’s preference is to recycle it, taking into account relevant regulations and environmental considerations. The Group only employs accredited contractors for handling its waste streams.

Hazardous waste treatment in 2020 *)

*) Environmental data might be subject to minor adjustments due to ongoing audits and missing third-party data at the time this report was finalised.

By-products of polymer production, such as non-prime material or material from cleaning activities, are used to the extent possible in the Group’s recycling plants.

Following the integration of the recycling companies Borealis acquired in Germany and Austria, the total amount of waste and its composition has changed significantly.

Waste characterisation in 2020 *)

*) Environmental data might be subject to minor adjustments due to ongoing audits and missing third-party data at the time this report was finalised.

Non-recyclable waste has become one of the largest proportions of total waste for the Group and a main driver of the significant drop in the overall recycling percentage. Currently, this stream is used as secondary fuel in steel or cement production, but considerable research effort is going into finding a recycling solution for this stream too.

In 2020, the Group’s total waste volume was 100 kilotonnes, compared to 86.1 kilotonnes in 2019. Approximately 30% of Borealis’ waste volume was recycled, 30% was recovered and 40% was disposed of, with 3% going to landfill and 37% receiving a different treatment.

Pellet Spills

Plastic pellets released unintentionally during production, transportation, conversion and recycling can end up in streams, rivers and oceans. Preventing spillage is a core responsibility for the industry. Borealis is committed to zero pellet loss in and around its operations, and was therefore an early signatory to Operation Clean Sweep® (OCS), an international programme initiated by the Society of the Plastics Industry and the American Chemistry Council and rolled out in Europe by PlasticsEurope. Borealis is also a signatory of the “Zero Pellet Loss” pact in Austria, which is the equivalent to OCS.

Achieving zero pellet loss is a challenging journey and requires continuous leadership, effort, targeted and effective work practices and investment.

Waste treatment comparison between 2019 and 2020 for all total waste, all treatments and the ratio of hazardous and non-hazardous waste *)

*) Environmental data might be subject to minor adjustments due to ongoing audits and missing third-party data at the time this report was finalised.

The Group started in 2016, with a first set of audits at all of its polymer sites. In 2018, a second set of audits confirmed that Borealis locations are on the right track to achieve the Group’s internal ambitions.

In parallel to the Group’s continuous efforts to improve its own performance, Borealis has proactively contributed to PlasticsEurope’s OCS task force, to:

  • develop detailed and auditable requirements that every OCS signee must comply with;
  • develop a joint EU-wide approach for auditing and certification against the OCS requirements; and
  • update a self-assessment tool, combining the lessons from the Borealis and Total tool and the new mandatory requirements.

In 2020, the OCS requirements newly developed by Plastics Europe were used as the basis for audits of all Borealis polyolefin locations. The audits confirmed that Borealis’ locations in general live up to the requirements that will be the basis for the certification scheme. Nevertheless, there are still some gaps to be closed before all the locations can be certified against the soon to be released OCS standard.

Borealis made significant progress towards Zero Pellet Loss thanks to an upgraded state-of-the-art water treatment system in Schwechat, Austria. The EUR 6 million investment in a novel filtering system further reduces the risk of plastics loss. As there was no off-the-shelf technology available to suit the location’s needs and expectations, Borealis custom-built the solution, together with partners from universities and technology providers. The multi-stage filtering system uses the best available technology and is now fully operational.

Key environmental performance indicators 2016–2020 *)

*) Environmental data might be subject to minor adjustments due to ongoing audits and missing third-party data at the time this report was finalised.//2) Severe upsets led to significant emergency flaring during shut-downs; further there was a lack of recycling capacity.//3) The main reason for the increase is the integration of the plastics recycling company mtm plastics GmbH into the monthly group reporting definitions.

Definitions

EU Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) CO2 emissions: All greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) as per the European ETS expressed in CO2 equivalents (since 2009 this indicator has replaced the reporting of direct carbon dioxide emissions).

Nitrous Oxide (N2O) emissions: Emissions of N2O (also known as laughing gas) are generated by the production of nitric acid in the fertilizer plants. N2O is a GHG with a global warming potential (GWP) 310 times higher than CO2.

Flaring losses: All streams sent to the are, except streams that assure a constant flame (e.g. fuel gases to pilot burners, fuel gas purges to are lines for safety reasons, steam, nitrogen).

Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) emissions: Emission of all organic compounds (from C1 to Cn) with a vapour pressure of 0.01 kilopascal (kPa) or more at either room temperature or at actual temperature when processed. The quantification is based on measurements and estimates. Total volatile organic carbon, expressed as C, includes methane.

Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) emissions: Emissions of all nitrogen oxides from all relevant sources, including ares. The emissions are quantified as NOx. When NOx measurements are not carried out, emission factors correlated to the fuel type and heating value are used.

Dust: Emission of dust from production of fertilizers.

NH3 (Ammonia): Emissions of NH3 from fertilizer plants, loading stations and water treatment of fertilizer locations.

Primary energy consumption: Consumption of all energy vectors (i.e. fuels, electricity and steam). Electricity and steam are converted into primary energy with standard conversion factors of 40% (electricity) and 90% (steam).

Water consumption: Total amount of fresh water withdrawn from surface or groundwater sources for any type of usage (e.g. cooling, steam generation, cleaning, sanitation).

Waste generation: Generation of all waste at company locations during normal operation as well as during special projects. Any substance or object that is to be discarded is included in the definition of waste. Exceptions are atmospheric emissions, liquid effluents and by-products with commercial value.

Outlook

The Group’s priorities for 2021 are in line with those of 2020, with a focus on enhancing valorisation of sidestreams and research of industrial symbiosis. The purpose is to minimise the production of waste, consume fewer resources and better handle the end-of-life of Borealis’ products.

For example, one of the areas of progress is a collaboration between producers and distributors of fertilizers in France to work on the design of packaging to facilitate their recycling, while not degrading their resistance and permeability for safety and quality.

In 2021, the revision of the BREF LVIC “Large Volume Inorganic Chemical” will start. It will define the new mandatory emission limits for Fertilizer plants. Preparation will also begin for the expected publication of the WGC BREF, including a gap assessment of plants versus best available technique, and defining study needs and the investment budget.

A major focus area will be to use the input from the water inventories and the water risk assessments as a basis for developing a water management strategy.

Combined Annual Report 2020 (PDF)

English and German Version available

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Disclaimer

This online report contains only highlights and excerpts from Borealis’ Combined Annual Report 2020. Only the entire report is legally binding and it must be read in full to gain a comprehensive understanding of Borealis’ performance and activities in 2020. A copy of the Combined Annual Report 2020 can be downloaded here.