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news | 2021-08-19
Production line at BEWI factory, producing packaging out of styrofoam

Foto: Jonas Arneson/BEWI

Increased plastic packaging recycling benefits both climate and industry

Swedish industries rely on vast amounts of single-use plastic packaging which is usually incinerated immediately after use. A collaboration between researchers and companies that targets both technology and politics is attempting to find ways to increase recycling.

– This delivers both economic and climate benefits. The industry is no longer compelled to incinerate costly packaging after single use. And the increased recycling of plastic reduces climate affecting emissions, says project manager Erik Perzon at IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute.

In Sweden, more than 200,000 tonnes of plastic packaging are sold every year, but only around 16 per cent of this is recycled as new material. Incineration of plastic packaging in Sweden emits approximately 1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents each year – as much as one tenth of that generated by passenger car traffic.

Unlike the consumer area, where there are established collection and recycling systems, business packaging is collected on a business-to-business basis that lacks coordination. This is even though this waste is often more homogeneous and less contaminated than household packaging and therefore eminently suitable for material recycling.

– It is important that the recycling takes place in such a way that the material can be used again and again in equivalent products, which is not the case today, says Erik Perzon.

The project has adopted a holistic perspective that strives to revamp the entire system. It will develop technologies and business models, assess the sustainability of the proposed solutions and lobby for change in regulations and legislation.

Case studies will be conducted for some specific packaging types, including:

  • Extended polystyrene, EPS (usually referred to by the brand name Styrofoam). That there is a significant demand potential is proven by the fact that in Norway more than 70 per cent of EPS is recycled.
  • Large plastic bags used for, among other things, grain, and construction waste.

– An earlier system for recycling big bags was discontinued due to inordinate costs. Handling of the bags after use is unwieldy. They are difficult to fold manually, and smaller companies can hardly be expected to purchase compressing machines. A deposit system could stimulate recycling, says Micael Rahm at Accon Greentech, a company working to establish a recycling system for big bags.

The project, entitled Close the Industrial Plastics Loop, has engendered broad support from manufacturers, waste managers, researchers, and others. It will run until January 2023 and is equally financed by Vinnova and the participating industry players.

For more information, please contact:
Erik Perzon, erik.perzon@ivl.se, +46(0)10-788 65 70

About the project

Project leader: IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute

Participants: Accon Greentech, Barry Callebaut, BEWI, IKEM (Chemical and innovation companies in Sweden), Jackon Insulation, Kretslopp och Recycling i Sverige, Lantmännen Cerealia, Martin & Servera, The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, Novoplast, Samhall, Stora Enso Timber, Sundolitt, and Uppsala Water & Waste.

Financing: Vinnova within the Challenge-driven innovation programme, step 2. Solutions can be scaled up diversified in a future step 3.

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Last updated: 2021-10-28

IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute

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IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute has a wide environmental profile. We combine applied research and development with close collaboration between industry and the public sphere. Our consultancy is evidence-based, and our research is characterized by interdisciplinary science and system thinking.

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