Circularity of Plastics: experts’ dialogue on sustainable innovations

Authors: Jukka Seppälä, Aalto & Katri Valkokari, VTT

Circularity of plastics is by definition a systemic challenge that requires dialogue between multidisciplinary experts in order to build solutions and understand development paths. Our research webinar covered the topic through three complementary thematic sessions.

The first session started by looking at the challenge from the

big picture of complex multistakeholder decision making system.

Our quest speaker Jussi Kauppila (Finnish Ministry of the Environment) pointed out the stigma on regulations, when even the starting points are unclear. What is plastics? Who is responsible for littering?  How and based on what should the costs be paid? Therefore, the end of life scheme should be prioritised properly for all products. In the reflection from the perspectives of ValueBioMat, Jaakko Siltaloppi highlighted that a broad view on the multistakeholder value chain is needed in order to find possibilities to solve systemic challenges. Examples include novel technologies such as pyrolysis, power-to-x and innovative business models. Juha Vesala noted how it is important to reflect the competition law to balance between co-operation and competition when building the future solutions.

The second session consisted of two company presentations

integrating the views from a start-up and an established company.

Tomi Nyman (Woodly) emphasized that there is no single silver bullet for solving the challenges related to the circularity of plastics. Therefore, several parallel actions are needed in order to guide the transition towards completely carbon-neutral plastic industry. The trend should be to transition from CO₂ release toward innovative materials, such as bio-based plastics, that can be used as a carbon storage.  Considering material characteristics Tomi indicated that innovations for bio-based and recycled materials are more important than biodegradability. Oscar Vernáez (Neste) reflected on the challenge from the perspective of a well-established global player. His starting point was that the current linear petro-chemical value chains are transformed to more circular. Here, the use of sustainable feedstocks upstream, like renewable waste and residues and liquefied waste plastics, has a key role to enable the transition to circularity. Therefore, he highlighted how all value chain actors are making their independent decisions that have an influence on speed and direction of change. The results of ValueBioMat project was presented by videos, showing the research work at our laboratories.

The last section highlighted the

consumers’ role in transition towards circularity of plastics.

There the special focus of the discussion was on food packaging, which is a highly topical issue and present in everyday life of us all. First, Senja Forsman-Katainen (SOK) pointed out that it is not easy for consumers to understand the impacts of different packaging solutions. Therefore, elements of sustainable packaging could be included on the food package in a similar way as nutrition facts. Juha-Matti Katajajuuri (Luke) highlighted that the comparison of environmental impacts of different packaging materials should include also the impact of food waste, when it is not properly protected. Then, the reflection from the perspectives of ValueBioMat, included examples of biobased packaging innovations presented by Alireza Jaribion and the key drivers for making the transition happen were summarized by Anna Leinonen.

Let us know, if you want to join to the

multidisciplinary dialogue between the different experts.

We are pleased to welcome new advisory board members to explore the change drivers from EU legal framework and assessment of environmental footprint to material technology innovations and stakeholder behavior and engagement.