Rethinking Recycling blog

We need to rethink CO2 in recycling to ensure sufficient and sustainable materials

08 November 2022, 11:00 EET

Our world uses over 100 billion tonnes of different materials each year, and less than 10 % of these materials end up being recycled. Disappointingly, the consumption of virgin materials is growing faster than recycling. Shortage of sustainable raw materials could become a more pressing issue than availability of energy in the future. Our expert and the Programme Director of Carbon2x, Tony Rehn gives us insights on how rethinking CO₂ emissions from waste incineration led to a novel recycling concept.


CO2 is a valuable raw material

Europe produces every year almost 100 million tonnes of waste that is converted into energy by incineration. The incineration of non-recyclable waste is an important part of the current waste disposal system and energy production, but it also produces harmful CO2 emissions.

The incinerated waste also includes vast amounts of carbon, which is a vital and valuable raw material. Nature is extremely efficient in circulating carbon. Following nature’s example, the industry must learn to become considerably more efficient in carbon recycling.

According to our initial analysis, up to 90% of the carbon from waste could be circulated by supplementing the mechanical recycling of plastic with waste incineration technology, which captures the CO2 emissions and utilizes them in the production of new materials.

CO2 should therefore be considered as a valuable raw material. Simultaneously, we can reduce the dependence on fossil feedstock and improve self-sufficiency in Europe.

Replacing fossil-based plastic

Plastic is everywhere. And will be even more so in the future. According to research, the global demand for plastics is expected to grow threefold by 2050, and there are still very few worthy alternatives to plastic in many industries such as pharmaceutical and food industry.

Today, 90% of plastics is produced from fossil feedstock such as oil. To combat climate change, reducing the use of virgin fossil feedstock is of vital importance.

In the spring of 2022, we launched a pilot project called Carbon2x at our waste incineration plant in Riihimäki. Our objective is to capture the plant’s CO2 emissions and utilize them as raw materials in the production of new high-quality materials such as CO2-based plastics. With the Carbon2x concept, the climate impact of waste incineration would significantly reduce, and contribute to improve the recycling rate of plastic packaging compared to the current level by 2030.

Availability and cost of energy have understandably been top concerns since the war in Ukraine sparked an energy crisis in Europe and globally. However, in the long perspective, I believe the green transition will gain speed from the crisis and there will be plenty of clean energy available in the future. In addition to getting rid of fossil-based energy, we should focus on finding solutions to the looming shortage of sustainable raw materials. This requires moving to the next level of circular economy.

Learn more about the Carbon2x concept here.


Tony Rehn

Program Director
Tel: +358404855857
tony [dot] rehn [at] fortum [dot] com