Kalle Saarimaa: A shared goal is an important tool in recycling all plastics

Interview 09.04.2020

Fortum’s Kalle Saarimaa leads change towards circular economy. He does this, for example, by being a member of the Closed Plastic Circle Task Force. The project is a good example of a concrete, systemic, circular economy solution.

Kalle Saarimaa looks out of Fortum’s office building’s window to the Baltic Sea. It should be mid-winter, but the sea is open and weather grey. Saarimaa looks thoughtful. He is also determined. Saarimaa is one of the people leading the change towards circular economy, fighting climate change as his job.

– It is incredibly important to stop climate change. Simultaneously only eight percent of world’s materials are recycled to new use. The way it is going, we will run out of materials, Saarimaa explains his motives.

Fortum’s Vice President of Waste and Recycling Solutions sees that the change to circular society happens when political leaders and industries create a model that can maintain our quality of life in a sustainable way. He sees that we need systemic changes. Systemic change refers to the simultaneous reform of operational models, structures and their interactions, which are used to create the prerequisites for future welfare and sustainable development.

Work is to drive circular economy

Saarimaa sees himself being in a fortunate position where he can drive circular economy in practice.

– Circular economy has a major role in Fortum’s strategy. We have made substantial investments in this business and are planning to continue doing so in the future. We see this as a good growth opportunity.

Fortum is planning to increase the efficiency of the recycling facility in Finland and improve its operational prerequisites. They are also considering a new recycling facility in Norway. Another plan is to start recycling electronic appliances and enhancing batteries’ circular economy solutions.

Every part of plastic circle needs work

Fortum is one of the key partners of Smart & Clean Closed Plastic Circle project. The project’s goal is to tenfold the recycling rate of plastics in the Helsinki region from the current six percent. This would reduce CO2 emissions as much as 80 000 citizens in the region emit per year. Smart & Clean partners have committed to the project’s first phase goals: The overall recycling rate of plastics will be 20 percent in 2025 and the recycling rate of plastic packaging will be 50 percent. Saarimaa sees leading with a shared goal as a good tool.

– For example, one of EU’s most important tasks is to set ambitious, binding goals and let the markets find the solutions.

Only six percent of plastics in the Helsinki region is recycled back to material. Saarimaa sees several reasons behind this: plastic products are not primarily designed to be recycled, there are several types of plastics and several product categories that use plastics as a material, and the collection of plastics should be extended beyond plastic packaging to other plastics. Furthermore, there is not enough demand for recycled plastic material.

– At Fortum we invest, with producers, in innovating new products made of recycled plastics. For example, we have developed a classic school chair with plastic parts made of recycled plastic enforced with cellulose fibres with furniture producer Isku. With Sinituote we have developed a dish brush made completely of recycled plastic.

Saarimaa points out that one good way to start would be to design all plastic products to be recyclable. This would increase plastic recycling immensely.

Making the change needs all stakeholders

Saarimaa estimates that the systemic change in creating a closed plastic circle needs a shared situation analysis on what can be done and what is sensible to do. This has now been created in the Closed Plastic Circle project with a unique data model.

– We need a very practical approach. When we all understand the situation analysis in the same way, it is easy to understand what every party can do and then commit to the targets.

When the interview turns to close the sun glimpses behind the clouds. Saarimaa sighs and then smiles. There is a lot that needs to be done. To achieve a significant change, every stakeholder needs to do the best they can in their perspective roles.