Recycling of industrial plastic as part of the circular economy and sustainable development

Customers participating in Kiilto’s pilot project for recycling industrial plastic have received positive feedback and see the pilot as an excellent opportunity to develop cooperation with experts of different areas.

Our modern society depends on packaging. A package protects the product, provides user instructions, and enables a logistics chain from the manufacturer to the end user. Plastics have many properties that make them superior packaging materials. If the packaging fails to protect the products properly, the spoiling or disposal of contents results in a greater environmental impact than the packaging itself.

Regarding problems related to plastics, the recycling of plastic packaging is essential to reducing the environmental impact significantly. Currently, plastic packaging from companies is mostly incinerated but a more environmentally friendly option is to recycle and re-use it.

Juvenes finds recycling easy and convenient

Juvenes is a 61-year-old Finnish restaurant and hospitality company owned by the Student Union of the University of Tampere. Sustainability and an environmentally conscious approach are integrated in Juvenes’ operations. Its student background helps to ensure that the company is constantly being challenged to find sustainable solutions for recycling and ingredients, for example.

“We share many values with Kiilto, so it was easy to decide to embark on the project. The corporate world does not yet have sufficient solutions for recycling plastic. We want to be on the crest of developing functional solutions with a clear need for the future”, says Juvenes’ development manager Nina Lyytinen.

Juvenes started recycling industrial plastics in student cafeterias, and the project has been met with enthusiasm, especially among the environmental engineering students. People had a positive attitude towards the project, and it was easy to get the staff on board. Issues that were thought to be problematic at first, such as a possible lack of space and untidiness, have turned out fine.

“Recycling has turned out to be easy and convenient. The entire process is surprisingly tidy and streamlined, which is great! Kiilto provided good training for our staff and supervisors before the start of the project, which has certainly helped. We can learn from one another”, smiles Lyytinen as she continues:“The customers also benefit from the project, and it supports the goals of the property owners and users. This is an excellent way of communicating our values to the stakeholders and a concrete step towards sustainable operating models.”

At Hämeenlinna Cooperative Dairy, the recycling of containers supports the company’s environmental goals.

“We were interested right away when Kiilto suggested participating in the project. Our personnel was happy to participate from the very start, and they had a very positive attitude towards recycling”, says Anne Isokangas from the Hämeenlinna Cooperative Dairy.

Sustainable development is an essential part of the Hämeenlinna Cooperative Dairy operation. Their environmental management system complies with the ISO 14001 standard, and packages, for example, are part of certified operations. According to Isokangas, recycling was easy to start, internal instructions were functional, and some steps were already familiar.

“The biggest surprise was to notice how many recyclable containers we end up with. It is absolutely feasible to recycle and sort them separately.”

Plastics have been recycled only for a short period of time, and comparable figures are not yet available. The direction is right, however, and comparable figures will become available at the end of the year.

“Recyclable containers mean less energy waste and reducing energy waste is part of our environmental goals”, says Isokangas.

Recycling is based on cooperation

Cooperation between experts of various fields promotes the awareness of recycling plastic and uses of reprocessed plastic. For example, the carbon footprint of packaging made from recycled plastic can be 50% smaller than that made of virgin plastic. In 2019, Kiilto launched a project that helps its customers to recycle plastic packaging. The pilot will continue in 2021–2022.

“We want to promote the circular economy and protect the environment. It makes more sense to keep good materials in circulation than to incinerate them and increase carbon emissions”, says Kiilto product development manager Heidi Kähkönen.

Recycling commercial plastic waste is taking its first steps but its development will be rapid in the next few years. One driver is EU legislation that promotes more efficient recycling. According to the EU plastic strategy, 50% of all plastic used in packaging must by recycled by 2025.