ForTheDoers Blog

Don’t waste the waste

Kalle Saarimaa 29 July 2019, 11:23

For hundreds of years, since the days of the Industrial Revolution, we have been thinking about economics in linear terms – buy new, use, throw away. For decades we have exceeded the planet’s ability to renew the raw materials we use in a year. But this challenge has been recognized and we are seeing serious attempts to solve this imbalance. Instead of thinking linearly, we have slowly started to think in circular terms.

A blue plastic bucket in a pile of waste

The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra released a report last year in which they concluded that a more circular economy could lead to deep emissions reductions from heavy industry: in an ambitious scenario, as much as 296 million tonnes CO2 per year in the EU by 2050 (out of 530 in total) and some 3.6 billion tonnes per year globally. The EU economy is accumulating large stocks of metals and plastics, and by 2050 could meet a large share of its need for these materials by recirculating what has already been produced: 75% of steel, 50% of aluminium, and 56% of plastics.

Achieving a truly circular economy requires a new way of approaching challenges related to raw materials. Unlike in a linear economy, in a circular economy, we need always to consider the whole chain – starting from the virgin raw material to its first use, possible second use, recycling and new life. Making this a reality requires a new way of thinking from all of us, from individuals all the way up to big corporations. We need to start thinking about the whole value chain, not only our own narrow part of it.

Making products and packaging reusable and recyclable is something that must be considered already in the design phase; that, in fact, is when the recyclability is actually determined. What collection systems will be available, and for what kinds of treatment? Local conditions may vary and should also be taken into account. To promote circularity, raw materials from the most sustainable sources must be considered – and these include materials that are waste-based and bio-based.

Plastic is a great example of a material that really holds its value. Born as a side stream of oil refining, plastic is in many ways a superior material: durable, light-weight, easily moulded into all shapes and available in every colour. After one use, plastic packaging and products can have a second or even up to ten new lives as new products and packaging.


We are very proud to say that we are able to make high-quality recycled plastic raw material that can replace virgin plastic in most applications. Just ten years ago, this wasn’t possible. We can – and should – promote the change to a circular economy through regulatory changes. The upcoming shift in focus from collection to recycling in the EU directive is an important change that will affect the whole system back to product design.

But recycling is also about scale. The method we use to recover as much as 80 per cent of the rare earth metals in the cathode of a Li-Ion battery not only has the capacity to handle the expected volumes of EV batteries on the European market for years to come, it can so at a competitive price, giving battery manufacturers the possibility to close the material loop.

The fact that we have a large-scale recycling capability ready when the market emerges is a showcase of how a circular economy is becoming the new norm. So while effective waste management solutions are still missing in many parts of the world, we are moving in the right direction.

With waste volumes growing globally and a lack of basic waste management systems in many places globally, there is still a need for a full portfolio of solutions – from high-quality recycling to Waste-to-Energy – to enable a circular economy. We need more doers, those who rethink their product lines into material cycles, and more initiatives like the one Adidas launched last year in which recovered plastics from the Pacific Ocean are used as raw material.

My role gives me the opportunity to make a difference at the system level, but my contribution as an individual is also important, and so is yours. We can both make choices to consume wisely and strive to give our things a second life through reuse or recycling, rather than turning them into waste. And that is something we can do already today to move the overshoot date forward.

Kalle Saarimaa

Kalle Saarimaa

VP, Recycling and Waste
Tel: +358415031337
kalle [dot] saarimaa [at] fortum [dot] com

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