Sustainable products are a driver for recycling research
The world is full of new complex materials used in various products. Composite materials, lithium-ion batteries, steels with multiple additives, and new plastics are examples that create challenges in the recycling of industrial waste.
- Many manufacturing companies think most about the properties of the materials when products are manufactured and used. But one day, they will be discarded, recycled, or reused and find their way to a new product. The right choice of materials and well-thought-out product design is a prerequisite for efficient recycling in the future, says Fredrik Overgaard.
Recycling research that contributes to new recycling methods is an essential cog in the industry. They demand more and more circular raw materials and want more recyclable products.
- They need a complete story where products are sustainable all the way, from being designed to be discarded and recycled, says Christer Forsgren.
More collaborations in recycling research
Christer Forsgren works as a senior advisor in Stena Recycling's research activities. He has 17 years of experience in recycling research in the recycling industry and has seen it change from a hidden existence to a firm, international status. All in step, with the world's growing insight into the planet's limited resources, increased climate impact, and environmental degradation.
- 10-15 years ago, research was more inward-looking. There was rarely any collaboration between recyclers and manufacturing companies. And the industry thought mostly about minimized costs for its waste management. Now it is usual with projects that bring together the various actors in the value chain. It reflects the complex challenges we must solve together. The emerging battery recycling is an example of this, says Christer Forsgren.
Changed requirements that affect the market
EU legislation on, for example, landfill, car recycling, electronics recycling, and the Water Framework Directive have all become essential for both the manufacturing industry and the recycling industry over the past 10-15 years.
A significant event is that China has stopped imports of several types of waste from the rest of the world. The result is that vast amounts of waste must be recycled at home, close to the industry that generates waste and close to where circular raw materials are in demand.
- It is an excellent opportunity for industry and us who push for more joint research. And it is positive that there are now powerful opportunities to obtain funding for recycling research.
Competitive advantages for frontline industries
The use of materials is a large and sometimes dominant source of the industrial companies' climate impact. It is a rather new insight for many companies. More and more companies are openly communicating their ambitions regarding, for example, the use of recycled raw materials to reduce their climate impact. This, in turn, sends important signal values to subcontractors and provides a domino effect.
Front-line manufacturers see a competitive advantage over consumers in the market regarding products made from recycled materials and recyclable products. In a survey by Stena Recycling in the spring of 2020, 92% answered that they expect the industry to use more recycled materials. And 86% think it is necessary to produce recyclable products. One challenge is that there are no standards for what recycled materials may and may not contain.
- Manufacturing companies do not take chances with raw materials with unwanted contaminants or uneven quality. So several things need to be solved in parallel when new circular commodity markets take shape. That is why we participate, for example, in the certification body SIS projects that develop industry standards for recycled plastic.
Complex challenges require new collaborations
There is also a growing awareness of the supply of certain critical raw materials - such as cobalt, lithium, and neodymium - needed in an electrified world.
- The lack of such raw materials could lead to difficulties in producing the products. Much research is underway on the recycling of, for example, rare earth metals. It will become increasingly important to not be dependent on China in particular, which dominates the market, says Christer Forsgren.
He also mentions the problematic process wastes from industry, such as sludge, slag, and ash. Most of these waste is put in landfills, even though they usually contain elements that society needs.
- Waste is a cost to industry, and the risk increases in the future with more landfills being closed and restrictive exemptions. 99% of these landfill volumes concern materials that we want to recycle to become new and more sustainable products. There is still a lack of cost-effective methods, but it is an important research area for a more circular economy.
More speed for sustainable products
Christer Forsgren and Fredrik Overgaard say that a future corresponding "CE marking" for sustainable products would benefit business models in industries that use more circular materials in their products.
- The industry is rapidly gaining more and more focus on increased recycling and recyclable products. And they want to collaborate with us ever earlier in their development work. It is a very positive trend and creates great potential in future collaborations. It has never been more apparent than now that it is together that we can make a difference, says Fredrik Overgaard.