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17.06.2020 -

How to maximise product recycling

“If you want to make a product that is recyclable, you have to take recyclability into account from the very beginning – in this way 80% of the product’s environmental impact can be solved before any lines are drawn.” This is the advice of Tapani Jokinen, Woodly’s Circular Design Advisor, based on his long experience and international success as a product designer.

One of Tapani’s main responsibilities as a Circular Design Advisor is to connect Woodly with the right people. “I help others to see and understand the benefits of Woodly material, in particular concerning the opportunities that will result from circular economy development planning. In this way, our customers benefit from more than just the raw material,”  Tapani says.

“More than 60% of emissions are the result of poor material management and poor product design. There is a clear need for better product design as well as careful supply chain planning to ensure the material remains in circulation for longer. Economic growth is created within the limits of the Earth’s carrying capacity, for the benefit of business and people. At the moment, there is an almost hostile attitude towards plastic, but the problem is not the plastic itself but how it is used – how it is designed and how its reuse is handled. Recycling is important because we can no longer afford not to recycle.” 

Currently, only 8.6 percent of materials are reused – globally. This means that 91.4% of the raw materials we process are used once only and then turned into waste. In monetary terms, we lose billions of Euros every year. The circular economy creates an opportunity for society and for businesses to turn these billions into profit. However, in order to increase the level of recycling, the whole economy and methods of production need to be redesigned to provide consumers with better ways to buy, consume and recycle products.

 

Europe aims to be carbon-neutral by 2050. Can Finland get there by 2035?

“Ongoing climate change can no longer be stopped, but we can slow it down. Reducing the production and use of coal has a major role to play here, as it is one of the main contributors to climate change. Wood binds carbon. 50% of the composition of wood is carbon! The carbon in carbon-dioxide is the “building block” of wood while the oxygen is released back into the atmosphere. This is why plastic made from wood is a fantastic innovation.”  Tapani says. 

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said that Europe will be carbon-neutral by 2050. Sanna Marin aims for a carbon-neutral Finland by 2035. Marin’s goal is aggressive, but according to Tapani Jokinen, it will create a huge competitive advantage for Finland. Tapani knows what he’s talking about, as he also works at the Fraunhofer IZM Institute in Germany and consults to the European Union on ways to reduce the carbon footprint of products through design. 

Within a few years, products will have precise restrictions that they must meet in order to be sold on the European internal market. The EU Green Deal, for example, includes measures to “ensure products are designed to last longer, are easier to reuse, repair and recycle, and incorporate as much as possible recycled material instead of primary raw material” in order for products to be sold on the European market. Tapani supports this proactive approach, for a business to reduce their carbon footprint rather than using carbon footprint compensation as a form of “punishment”. In offsetting their carbon footprint, a company pays according to the emissions they produce. This creates two possibilities for a company, they will either take steps to become a carbon neutral producer or pay for not being one. 

“Covid-19 has shown that through joint international action, we can control the virus, so we can do the same for carbon.” Tapani says confidently.

 

The Circular Economy will become the new “business as usual”.

Corona has shaken the world economy and forced companies to become resilient in finding new solutions to the current situation. According to Tapani, after Corona, there will be no going back to the same old way of working and this is a good thing. In a similar way, the transition into a circular economy will further improve companies’ resilience, their ability to cope with adversity and recovery and increase their ability to adapt to change and loss. The circular economy is receiving support from several sources, such as the global investment fund Black Rock and several large banks. And at the EU level, Ursula Vonn der Leyen has also committed, in her press conference of 4th April this year, to support the circular economy. She says “and crucially we need to invest strategically in our future, for example for innovative research, for digital infrastructure, for clean energy, for a smart circular economy, for transport systems of the future. A Marshall Plan of this nature will help build a more modern, sustainable and resilient Europe”.

Consumers have also begun to demand change and for measures to prevent climate change. This puts pressure on changing the traditional way of doing business. The big challenge is how to build this new way of doing business. 

“Products need to be made to be long-lasting and stay in circulation for a long time. When people keep their purchases in use for a long time, business value no longer comes from the buying and selling of products but from licenses granting permission to access product features for their own use. The life cycle of products must also be extended. Products must be repairable and the manufacturer must produce spare parts. New markets will also emerge as the product is reused in a second hand market, as well as a new market for raw material when the product is disassembled. ”  Tapani explains.

 Recyclable plastic is better than compostable plastic.

In closing, Tapani says “Plastic is still the best material for mass production in terms of formability and price. I believe in Woodly because it is wood-based and recyclable. The Woodly material is designed to remain in circulation and not be disposed of. In contrast, disposable plastics with a short lifespan are well suited to compostable products. Designers need to understand when to use recyclable plastic and when to use disposable plastic.”

Author: Maria Aksela

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