Circulating all plastics in the Helsinki metropolitan area

News 17.01.2020

Only a fraction of all recyclable plastics in the Helsinki metropolitan area are refined into new material. If plastics were recycled into material, the emissions caused by burning them – 336,000 tonnes in the Helsinki Metropolitan area – would be avoided. This is an equivalent amount to the yearly emissions of about 80,000 people in the capital. Globally, up to 120 billion dollars worth of plastic is discarded each year.

In the Closed Plastic Circle change process, private and public sector bodies are developing impactful actions that will help make all possible plastic into recyclable material. According to a preliminary report made by the Smart & Clean Foundation, only 6 percent of the plastics in the Helsinki metropolitan area and Lahti are recycled as material.

The target is to get 60–70 percent of plastics in the Helsinki Metropolitan area to circulate instead of the current 6 percent figure.

“Everything that is done within the process takes us towards the mutually agreed target. The Smart & Clean criteria also play a role in the background. The activities are motivated by, for example, cooperation between the private and public sector, business potential, emissions reduction and wellbeing”, says the Smart & Clean Foundation’s Chief Impact Designer Jaana Pelkonen.

The parties committed to the target are developing scalable climate solutions for solving the plastic problem, which will create sustainable business. The aim is to strengthen the market for recyclable plastic products and to increase the carbon handprint of actors in the Helsinki metropolitan area and Lahti. The core partners of the process are the City of Helsinki, City of Espoo, HSY, VTT, Lassila & Tikanoja, Fortum and Siemens.

Plastic involves local and global challenges

According to Pelkonen, there are at least two key reasons for why only 6 percent of the Helsinki metropolitan area’s plastics are circulated. Firstly, the sorting and collection of good-quality recyclable plastics is not quite up to par. Although the sorting and collection of packaging plastics is growing at a good rate, the collection of hard plastics and building plastics is still almost non-existent. Secondly, there is not yet a sufficient market for recycled plastic material. Demand for recycled plastics is low.

“A lot of plastic ends up getting burned with mixed waste. Some of the sorted material is also burned, because it is so dirty or otherwise of poor quality when it arrives at the treatment plant”, Pelkonen says.

Manufacturing and burning plastics creates carbon dioxide emissions. If plastics were recycled into material, we would avoid the emissions caused by burning them. Ceasing the burning of plastic would reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the Helsinki metropolitan area by 342,000 tonnes. This is an equivalent amount to the yearly emissions of 80,000 people in the capital.

There is a lively ongoing debate about the variety of challenges related to plastics – and for good reason. According to a report by consultancy firm Material Economics (2018), global plastic production is expected to grow to over 800 million tonnes by the year 2050. If nothing drastic is done, carbon dioxide emissions from plastics in the EU area may grow by up to 76 percent by the same year.

Moving towards a shared target through impactful actions

Towards the end of 2019, the Closed Plastic Circle ecosystem is in the process of being formed and ready to begin a transformation. A management system has been created for the ecosystem and the next step is to develop impactful actions that help get all plastics in circulation. The process addresses nine mutually supportive areas, such as plastic collection and sustainable product design. 

In 2016, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimated that material worth about 100 billion is wasted globally when plastic is used only once. Roughly stated, a global market of the same amount would open up for recycled products if all plastic were to circulate. As the plastic recycling rate increases, the size of the recycled plastic market will grow.

“In Finland, the majority of plastics and plastic raw materials are purchased from abroad. But if plastic materials were recycled more efficiently here, imports would be reduced and we would be generating domestic business for ourselves”, Pelkonen sums up. 

 

The goal of the Closed Plastic Circle change process is to find business-oriented solutions that can be exported to the world. The Smart & Clean community invites all actors interested in the subject to get involved. Read more here.