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.