06 June 2018
In Finland the plastic bags are in the center of the conversation about plastics and at the retail store cash register many consumers are wondering, what is the best carrier bag choice for the environment. At the same time many people are thinking whether or not it makes sense to sort and recycle their plastic packaging as a raw material for new plastic products.
The separate collection of consumer plastic packaging waste in eco take-back points and real estates and the processing of the collected material as a recycled raw material has taken its first steps in Finland. This raw material is used in the production of ESSI Circular Bags for example. The environmental impacts of the recycling process, from the separate collection all the way to the end of a carrier bag’s life cycle, were studied to form a general picture. VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland studied the environmental impacts of ESSI Circular Bag’s life cycle and the results of the circular economy model were very positive.
Based on the life cycle analysis (LCA) of ESSI Circular Bag, it may be said that using the plastic packaging separately collected from households as a raw material makes sense from an environmental perspective and it further reduces the climate change effects of a carrier bag made from recycled raw materials which has already being studied to generate a small amount of emissions. The study shows that the separate collection’s and logistics’ share of the overall climate change effects of a product was very small. Based on this the separate collection of plastic packaging can be stated to make sense for the environment. The plastic packaging producers in Finland are willing to further develop the collection services provided to the consumers. There will be about a hundred more new regional collection points this year and the real estate collection in the apartment houses in populated areas is increasing rapidly.
The processing of collected plastic packaging as a recycled raw material in Fortum’s Circular Economy Village in Riihimäki Finland was analysed in the study as well. Processing of the collected plastic waste doesn’t require a large amount of energy so compared so the share of the processing compared to the overall effect is moderate.
”With this study we wanted to clarify the superiority of the circular economy concept and compare the results to the ones already gotten in the OPTIKASSI study. The study confirmed clearly that it is always worthwhile to recycle plastic. The steps taken by Amerplast, Fortum and The Finnish Plastics Recycling make developing new environmentally sustainable products possible. We as consumers have the greatest opportunity to make a positive effect by sorting and recycling all the materials we use. None of the materials belongs to the nature,” says Ari-Pekka Pietilä, CMO, Amerplast.
Studies about the environmental effects of Finnish carrier bags have been done before. Lappeenranta University of Technology and the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) conducted the OPTIKASSI study in 2009. The study report studied the environmental effects of carrier bag alternatives available in Finnish grocery stores (paper, plastic, recycled plastic, biodegradable plastic and cotton carrier bags). According to the report the greenhouse gas emissions of a recycled plastic carrier bag containing 60% recycled materials are between -7-24g, emissions of a cotton bag 1100-3160g and emissions of a biodegradable plastic bag 38-60g. Depending on the use of the bags, the paper bag and the plastic bag made from virgin raw materials were in the same level compared to one another.
More research-based information about the environmental effects of plastic carrier bags made from recycled raw materials was gained in 2014 when VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland studied in the EcoFlexoBag project, what are the environmental effects of increasing the share of recycled materials in plastic carrier bags from 60% to 90%. The study results show that increasing the share of recycled raw materials used in the carrier bag lowers the amount of carbon dioxide emissions for example. The amount of greenhouse gas emissions dropped from 42g to 30g per bag when the share of recycled raw materials was increased from 60% to 90%.
Utilising consumer plastic packaging in the production of recycled plastic raw materials became possible in Finland in 2016 when the separate collection of consumer plastic packaging started and Fortum’s Circular Economy Village together with its Plastic Refinery was opened. This separately collected and processed material can be used to produce new recycled plastic products such as ESSI circular bags in line with the circular economy model. The circular economy carrier bag based on the Finnish circular economy model is the first of its kind and the environmental effects in the course of its life cycle needed to be studied.
In the beginning of 2018 VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland studied the life cycle impacts of ESSI Circular Bag using the LCA method based on ISO 14040 and 14044 standards. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a method to assess environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product’s life from raw material extraction all the way to the disposal or recycling. The LCA study was assigned by Finnish Plastics Recycling Ltd., Fortum Oyj and Amerplast Ltd. Based on the information analysed in the study, it may be said that separate collection and processing of consumer plastic packaging and utilizing this material for the manufacture of recycled plastic carrier bags in line with the circular economy model makes sense and it further decreases the environmental effects of the bag during its life cycle.
”The study confirms that the collecting, processing and utilising the used plastics as a raw material is the right solution for the environment and both the separate and centralized collection are playing an important role in promoting this. In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions recycling significantly reduces the consumption of fossil raw materials. The end result can be optimised by using the raw material in the local markets and processing it where low emission energy is available,” says Tiina Pajula, Principal Scientist, VTT.
The study showed that the share of separate collection and logistics of the overall climate change effects was very small (< 1%). The separate collection of consumer plastic packaging in Finland started in 2016 when the producer responsibility law came to force. The collection points can be found throughout Finland and all the collected material is processed in Fortum Recycling & Waste Solutions Circular Economy Village in Riihimäki Finland.
In the Circular Economy Village’s Plastic Refinery the collected plastic packaging waste is processed with a state of the art technology into high quality recycled raw materials for the plastics industry. The Plastic Refinery’s process is modern and efficient. Of the overall environmental effects, the share of packaging waste processing is moderate because it doesn’t require large amounts of energy.
Recycling consumer plastic packaging into raw materials and further into new products makes sense from the environmental perspective. It is also important, both for the Finnish environment and the employment that the waste produced in Finland is recycled and utilized in Finland. Based on the study it may be said that whenever possible the plastic packaging waste should be recycled into raw materials compared to burning it.
”Today different kinds of initiatives and assumptions of plastics and their environmental effects are being made. The majority of these assumptions are based on a superficial knowledge without accurate information. Practically these evaluations are based on assessments of global littering. Emphasising biodegradable solutions especially in the Finnish climate is irresponsible because no material belongs to the nature. This gives the consumers the possibility to get out of their responsibilities,” says Pietilä. “Investing strongly in the recycling, both on the society and the company level, also financially, and utilizing its possibilities more efficiently enables the best material efficiency and cleaner environment,” Pietilä concludes.
Studies done in Finland show that ESSI Circular Bag is a great shopping bag choice for the environment. Using recycled plastic as a raw material for the shopping bags shows to be a good solution also looking at other study results. Latest comparative European study was published in March 2018 by the Danish Environmental Protection Agency. According to the study carries bags made from plastic have the smallest environmental effects taking into account all the effect categories.
Read more about Amerplast’s Circular Economy Bags >>
CMO, Ari-Pekka Pietilä
+35810 214 2284
Product Line Manager Plastic Recycling, Mikko Koivuniemi
+35840 552 5363
Suomen Uusiomuovi Oy
CEO, Vesa Soini
+35850 3820 644
VTT Technical Research Center of Finland Ltd.
Principal Scientist, Sustainability Assessment, Tiina Pajula
+35840 589 9013
Amerplast, founded in 1952 is a forerunner in ecological packaging solutions. The company is one of Europe’s largest flexo printers and bag converters and a leader in innovative packaging solutions, manufacturing high-performance flexible packaging for fast moving consumer goods for both food and non-food categories. With its AmerGreen program Amerplast is taking a leading position in transforming the flexible packaging industry into an environmentally sound business. Amerplast is a market leader in Finland in carrier bags based on circular economy concept.
Fortum is a leading clean-energy company that provides its customers with electricity, heating and cooling as well as smart solutions to improve resource efficiency. We want to engage our customers and society to join the change for a cleaner world. We employ some 8,000 professionals in the Nordic and Baltic countries, Russia, Poland and India, and 62% of our electricity generation is CO2 free. In 2016, our sales were EUR 3.6 billion. Fortum’s share is listed on Nasdaq Helsinki. www.fortum.com
The Finnish Plastics Recycling Ltd.
Established in 1992 Finnish Plastics Recycling Ltd. is a non-profit limited company owned by 42 Finnish companies and organizations. Finnish Plastics Recycling Ltd. is the official extended producer organization for more than 2300 companies in Finland. In addition to the development of recycling systems the main responsibilities include organizing collection networks and recovery of plastic packaging as well as the related communication and education. www.uusiomuovi.fi
VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland
VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd is one of the leading research and technology organisations in Europe. Our research and innovation services give our partners, both private and public, all over the world a competitive edge. We pave the way for the future by developing new smart technologies, profitable solutions and innovation services. www.vttresearch.com