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Circular economy promotes sustainable development and competitiveness

Growing populations and ever-increasing economic activity are threatening the sufficiency of our planet’s resources. We are currently consuming resources faster than we can replace them. The circular economy is a response to this challenge and promises to achieve positive changes in society and the way we live. The aim of the circular economy is to maintain the value of products and materials for as long as possible. Added value is created by designing products and materials from the outset to be recyclable.

The circular economy constitutes a fundamental need for a more sustainable future. It aims to systematically reduce the production of new materials. Consumption would be based not on production but rather on renting, borrowing, sharing, recycling and developing recyclable products. The circular economy saves natural resources and creates new business opportunities while at the same time reducing emissions and the use of natural resources. In addition, the circular economy offers significant economic benefits, which in turn promotes new ideas and new jobs.

Circular economy, recycling, reuse

Recycling and reuse are generally more familiar concepts than the circular economy. The aim of recycling is to find a new use for waste that already exists. Waste is often used in the production of new products, so sorting waste is an essential component of recycling. Reuse means using an existing product again as is – selling and transferring a product we have used to someone else who may need it. The circular economy aims to enhance economic competitiveness by reducing the over-consumption of resources, i.e. to minimise the amount of waste that leaves the cycle. Products are designed and manufactured to last as long as possible, enabling materials to be used sustainably. Efficiently reusing resources allows the value of products and raw materials to be retained throughout their entire life cycle. Sustainable use, however, requires new ways of thinking – both in terms of production and consumption.

Circular economy in Finland

The idea of using a product for as long as possible is typical to the Finnish way of thinking, so understanding the benefits of the circular economy comes quite naturally to Finnish. Indeed, Finland is in many ways a pioneer in terms of the circular economy. On the other hand, the implementation of circular economy solutions is hampered somewhat by the reliance on research results. This fondness for numbers can also be used, however, to develop new innovations and solutions. The circular economy reduces the decline in natural resources by focusing resources on recycling, but at the same time it has a positive effect on the growth potential of the Finnish economy.

“Despite our reliance on research, the situation regarding the circular economy in Finland is good; it is already being applied within the Finnish paper and forestry industries. There is still room for improvement, however, in terms of getting from research to practical solutions. Utilising waste can be expensive and finding investments challenging. The technology is there, but getting the financing needed to build new plants is not so easy. Implementation needs research institutes, companies, experts, financing and changes to legislation,” says Kenneth Ekman, CEO of CrisolteQ Oy.

Because of its forest industry, Finland is the leading country in the biological circular economy. Despite this, recycling in Finland is still below the EU average and has not even reached the Nordic level. Nevertheless, Finland’s competitiveness is growing all the time thanks to new products, services, partnerships and technologies. The circular economy aims to maintain Finland’s viability in terms of both the environment and the economy. The Finnish Government has already announced the target of becoming a pioneer in the circular economy by 2025. The efficient utilisation of resources and reduction in the amount of waste help reduce production costs while protecting the environment. According to the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, the circular economy could create up to 2.5 billion euros in new business opportunities a year in Finland.

Circular economy in the EU

Europe is dependent on imports of raw materials, so the solutions offered by the circular economy insofar as the efficient utilisation of resources are extremely important. In December 2015 the European Commission proposed subsidies to support the transition to a circular economy within the EU. The European Parliament subsequently approved the European Commission’s proposal for a circular economy project that would apply to all current Member States plus the EEA countries, Norway and Switzerland. According to the proposal, municipal waste would have to be reduced by 55 percent by 2025, 60 percent by 2030 and 65 percent by 2035. As the project progresses, the share of waste send to landfills must not exceed 10 percent. In Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, 99 percent of waste does not end up in landfills. Instead, waste is recycled, reused, composted or utilised for energy. Other EU countries still have a long way to go, however, whereas Germany banned the disposing of waste in landfills already in 2005.

According to estimates made by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the circular economy could cut Europe’s current CO2 emissions by half by 2030 and by more than 80 percent by 2050. In addition to protecting the environment, the circular economy is expected to create new types of business in both Finland and the rest of Europe, which in turn will nurture economic growth that complies with the principles of responsibility and sustainable growth. Furthermore, the European Commission has estimated that a transition to the circular economy would create up to 2 million new jobs in Europe by 2030.

Industrial symbiosis

An industrial symbiosis is being created by the desire of companies to increase their resource efficiency and reduce costs generated by waste. The value of materials increases when they are kept in the cycle. This industrial symbiosis also increases the value of business operations, which results in saving both the environment and resources. By increases the benefits to business operations, new forms of business are also being developed while reducing the amount of waste being generated by manufacturing activities.

The idea behind industrial symbiosis is to stimulate increased cooperation between companies based on the utilisation of waste from one company as a productive resource by another company. Cooperating companies benefit from each other’s side streams, facilities and expertise. Compared to the traditional operating model for industry, industrial symbiosis increases the added value of products by saving natural resources and reducing the amount of waste by reusing it in production. In addition, the primary producer benefits from getting rid of waste while getting back some of its own raw materials for reuse.

Utilising industrial side flows

“In the circular economy, industrial side flows can be utilised in many cases as a productive resource. Utilising side flows reduces negative environmental impacts and creates new business. The challenges are to find ways to utilise side flows and the practical implementation of related processes. Primary producers benefit when their side flows are utilised. Disposing of waste is expensive for producers and therefore usually a burden,” Kenneth Ekman explains.

The importance of utilising side flows will increase as the availability of resources diminishes. The resources used to manufacture products create byproducts that can be reutilised in production. Within the chemical industry, the two most common ways of applying the circular economy are utilising side flows and recycling molecules.

In order to successfully manage side flows, it is important to find the most appropriate side flow and then contact the producer of this side flow. Utilising side flows also requires precise plans for how and where to use them. A use must be found for the end product in order to make its utilisation as effective as possible. In addition, the product must have technical documentation and comply with REACH regulations. Every stage of the process must also take into account legal requirements.

Algol Chemicals is participating in a major Finnish circular economy project together with CrisolteQ Oy, a recycling specialist within the chemical industry. In this project, metal regeneration precipitate that is produced as a byproduct in the manufacture of stainless steel is being processed into recycled products. Participating in this project means not only developing new business for Algol Chemicals, but also carrying responsibility for sustainable development. Algol Chemicals believes that demand for products that are resource-efficiently manufactured will continue to grow and is therefore keen to help commercialise CrisolteQ’s new products.

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