Society is facing a paradigm shift where fossil raw materials need to be replaced by renewable or recycled raw materials, and where linear resource flows must be replaced by circular. The recycling sector plays a key role in this transition.
The Swedish Recycling Industries’ Association’s roadmap towards a fossil-free and circular economy fulfils two important functions: on the one hand, to describe the industry’s own journey towards fossil-freedom and a more circular economy, and, on the other hand, to show how the recycling industry could be developed to enable other organisations to achieve the same objectives.
The recycling industry consists of a wide range of operations which have in common that they work to increase recycling and resource efficiency in society. According to national statistics, material recovery reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than 7 million tonnes in 2016. However, fossil fuels are currently used in transport, for heating and electricity consumption and in various recovery and treatment processes. In addition, society has a historical debt which the industry can contribute to resolving , which concerns the leakage of methane from old landfills. In total, the entire industry’s greenhouse gas emissions were estimated to be 1.2 million tonnes in 2016 according to the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, most of which is generated from landfills.
Although the focus of this roadmap is forward-looking, the industry needs to help assume responsibility for emissions that still arise as a consequence of historical debts.
The transition to a circular economy and fossil-freedom are closely linked. According to a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation of September 2019 , up to 50 per cent of society’s climate emissions are the direct result of linear management of our material flows. When resource efficiency and recycling increase, emissions from difficult-to-manage sources in global material production (mining, cement and steel production etc.) are moved to emission sources that are easier to influence through the use of renewable energy. But the challenges in the way forward are partly different. In the transition
from fossil to renewable, accessibility and costs may be clear barriers. As regards the transition to a circular economy, it is in the immediate economic interest of society and businesses to make use of existing resources more effectively. This requires substantial changes in design (to facilitate recycling), production methods, consumption patterns, regulatory frameworks and market functions.
For the recycling industry, the transition is closely linked to how waste is viewed, and requires a fundamental change in the regulatory framework of the waste market and a new focus on resources. Competition between private and municipal actors must take place on an equal footing, and ownership and responsibility for the waste must be clarified. Together with policy instruments and targets that are directed higher up in the waste hierarchy and which reward recovered raw materials, conditions can be created to give companies the courage to invest in innovative solutions.
The roadmap sets out objectives and commitments for the members of the Swedish Recycling Industries’ Association and calls on other industry actors and politicians to achieve a fossil-free and circular economy.