Numerous attempts at circular solutions today are limited by systemic obstacles, which requires us to raise and influence overall challenges and enabling factors to increase the degree of material recycling of, among other things, plastics and textiles. In the case of plastic, one of the reasons behind the low recycling rate is that the resources consist of a diverse variety of materials in different qualities that make recycling more difficult. What is more, today’s recycling systems are not built for small volumes of textiles and plastics. Recyclers prefer to avoid too small quantities of material because it is perceived as complex and economically unsustainable. Companies rarely see value in material that is thrown away. Manufacturers may be reluctant to reuse materials. Consumers and companies are not used to leaving specific products for separate collection. Small volumes of plastic therefore often go directly to incineration or are mixed with other types of plastic and textiles for recycling, which makes it difficult to reuse.
Examples of obstacles and enablers of a circular economy
- Restrictive legislation
- Few financial incentives
- Routine behavior
- Lack of infrastructure
- Lack of market conditions
- New technology
- Changes in taxation
- Internalizing externalities – paying the “real” price for raw materials
The Smart Loops project evaluates systemic conditions for a specific collection of smaller, cleaner flows of plastic – so-called smart loops of materials. The focus is on obstacles and profitability of smart loops in relation to behavior and policies. By building smart loops for materials and products, knowledge of the materials’ properties can be preserved and the value of the materials maintained. This way, the rights conditions for recycling in a circular system are generated.
Through the project, partners from academia and industry together explore if it is possible to find economically sustainable models for smaller volumes of circular material. The loops must both provide the required quality of the collected material, and the material must be able to be used again with the same quality and with a known composition.
Axfoundation is included as a project partner in Smart Loops and contributes with a practical case study through the ongoing initiative From waste to fashion. This project aims to utilize one company’s waste (discarded industrial polyester straps and round slings) to another company’s resource (recycled polyester for the fashion industry). As part of the case study within Smart Loops, researchers will now explore obstacles and enablers of policy, behavior and infrastructure – as well as economic and market mechanisms. The result will be an important tool for identifying systemic keys for the next step in From waste to fashion and will hopefully also provide input to, among others, decision makers regarding how political instruments need to be developed to enable circular transition of plastic flows in Sweden.
Smart Loops is run by IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute in collaboration with RISE IVF and the Chalmers Industrial Technology Foundation, as well as a number of companies and organizations: Astra Zeneca, Axfoundation, Emballator, Stadium, TrioPlast, IKEM, Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, Textilia Laundry and Textile Service, Swedish Floorball Association, Swedish Chemicals Agency and KRS AB. Smart Loops is partly financed by Vinnova and the grant Circular and biobased economy – From theory to practice. The project started in spring 2020 and is expected to last until 2021.