Transforming waste into value: Innovation and collaboration are the keys for circularity

It is said that every cloud has a silver lining. Compared to the progress in previous year, EU’s circular material use rate (CMU, the share of used material resources deriving from recycled waste materials) increased slightly. The cloud, however, is over Finland. For years, Finland has been ranking at the bottom among the EU countries regarding circular material use rate. From year 2020, the decrease in CMU in Finland has been rapid, resulting in the last position on the list this year. CMU is an important indicator for circular economy.

It can be argued that Finland might be more accurate than some other countries in its reporting. At least for waste and recycling statistics this is easy to believe. However, this does not remove the fact that we are a very virgin material-oriented country. Our main export products are from chemical industry, forest industry and machinery & metals that mostly use virgin raw materials as a source. As our own internal market is rather small, waste resources resulting from Finnish consumption and recycling them into new materials can hardly make an impact on the enormous quantities of oil, mineral and wood needed in the industry. The more we export materials made of virgin sources, the further away we get from our European counterparts, that are not that well equipped with natural resources, but are recycling their materials back in to use.

CMU rate in EU 2022
CMU rate in the EU, 2022

A call for change in Finland

How can we change the situation in Finland? How to move away from using only virgin material resources and reach higher CMU rate in the future? There is frankly not that many tools for that. Either we reduce the amount of virgin materials we use or increase the amount of waste materials as a source – or a combination of these. As the virgin materials are flowing out of Finland, we would need to get them back to us after their use and ensure their circulation back into new products. It can be argued whether it would make sense financially or environmentally. However, some of us might have seen the news about Finland importing waste from Italy to be incinerated in Finland. If this is possible, it should be possible to make it profitable to import the materials for recycling too. It would make all the sense to find ways to source second hand waste materials to be turned into high value export products. What if, instead of selling the materials abroad, we provided them as a service that we keep hold on after their first lifetime? All kind of new business models helping to improve CMU would for sure be welcome.

4Recycling ecosystem setting the stage

Our innovation system in Finland is unique compared to its European counterparts in many ways, especially when compared to countries that are also scoring low in CMU. We score very high in the European Innovation Scoreboard (EIS), indicating that our innovation system is one of the best in Europe. What’s more, we are very collaborative. This collaboration is an asset that can help us to overcome any challenges we are facing. Now, it is a matter of utilizing this collaboration and the great innovation system we have. We need to adapt this combination to generate more future innovations capable of turning our waste materials into new circular high-value products—precisely what the 4recycling ecosystem is set to do and will continue to do in the future, too. With innovation and collaboration, we can find our way towards more circular future.

Collaborative greeting to you all from 4recycling Ecosystem’s new lead Jussi Lahtinen

Jussi Lahtinen

Jussi Lahtinen

Ecosystem Lead, Circular Bioeconomy 

Tel. +358 40 673 8083