Plastic is a versatile and in many situations indispensable material, but it also causes major environmental problems due to harmful manufacturing, overconsumption and the fact that it ends up in nature. I Sverige works with a variety of actors, organizations and companies with various initiatives to contribute to conscious use and facilitate the recycling of plastic. It is a complicated job that requires efforts from many different actors and from many different perspectives to bring about a change.
With the joint initiative "Right plastic in the right place", a number of research and innovation financiers, together with specialized strategic innovation programs, now want to find the synergies and put even more power behind the efforts being made.
- All the organizations gathered are actively working on these issues in different parts of the innovation system. We have identified the potential of collaboration and that through it we can achieve more. We start in this core group that sits with various puzzle pieces and tools to contribute to a change, says Ida Langborg, area manager for Sustainable industry at Vinnova.
The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency is the coordinating public authority for the work with sustainable plastic use and has, among other things, developed a road map. Åsa Stenmarck, responsible for national plastics coordination, sees a strength in being able to combine the opportunities and tools of the various actors and in that way get "more bang for the buck".
- It is extremely empowering that we can collaborate in this way and I hope that we can achieve a common direction on available research and innovation funds that can strengthen the transition to a more sustainable use of plastics. In addition to that, we are now working to jointly invest in something a little more defined, says Åsa Stenmarck.
Other partners in the initial stage are the Swedish Energy Agency, Formas and Svenskt Vatten. Together with the strategic innovation programs Bioinnovation, Lighter and RE:source.
Several parties make a difference
Sverker Danielsson is deputy program manager at Bioinnovation, which works to develop innovative materials based on renewable raw materials.
- What we want to achieve is a system change. The issue is bigger than we can solve individually. Driving the green transition involves businesses and producers choosing sustainable raw materials and production processes, that there are systems that handle recycling and that the public sector is given the right conditions to be part of the green transition. We need to come together to cover these areas, he says.
The collaboration group has set a number of priorities around where it believes the synergies are greatest - within four different perspectives. Common to all perspectives is that support via laws, policies and directives as well as requirements in procurement are important prerequisites for success with change.
- Effective use of materials: Where is the material used most efficiently? Is the product made of plastic necessary at all?
- Raw material with minimal environmental impact: Where can plastic be replaced with products that have less impact on the environment? How can you reduce the number of materials and products and extend the life of the product?
- Greatly increased material recycling: Take a greater grip on material recycling, not just on single flows.
- No leakage: Plastic should not end up in nature.
Based on these priorities, concrete actions are identified and which more actors need to be involved in order to bring about change.
A new approach to plastic
At Under Sweden Innovation Days 2023, Vinnova and the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency held the collaboration-driving forces to sustainable plastics webinar. The expert panel, in which among others Åsa Stenmarck participated, agreed that it is complicated, but achievable, to reach full circularity for plastics by the year 2035.
Anders Kihl, development manager at the recycling company Ragn-Sells, highlighted the price mechanism and increased standardization as keys to a more sustainable plastic handling.
- If plastic from fossil raw materials continues to be as cheap as today, there is no incentive to recycle. We need to find a better pricing mechanism. And we need more standardized grades, such as Pet bottles, which would facilitate recycling.
- The biggest challenge is that we are stuck in the current system where we are trained to consume products at a fast pace, both companies and private individuals. We often don't think function but product and much of our infrastructure around consumption is also focused on 'buy and throw away', says Åsa Stenmarck.
The fact that many actors need to cooperate was also highlighted during the webinar as the most important prerequisite.
- In order for us to be able to move towards a more sustainable use of plastic, and generally a circular economy, it is necessary for actors to collaborate in a new way. You are no longer part of a straight value chain but more part of a value network, says Åsa Stenmarck.
- We are sitting on different puzzle pieces and tools. In the next step, we want to have more actorswith us in the "right plastic in the right place" initiative. Manufacturers, retailers, the recycling industry - and not least the consumers - to work together to reduce the impact of plastic on the environment and create a more sustainable future, says Ida Langborg.
Did you miss the webinar on sustainable plastic use during Sweden Innovation Days 2023? Watch it afterwards here: