I find plastic fascinating

Karl Holmqvist
Political science, Lund University

“We want to highlight the last step in the plastics chain.”

2021-06-18. Sysav has been part of STEPS since the programme started in 2016. Sysav stands for Sydskåne’s waste company and is owned by 14 Scanian municipalities. In 2020, Sysav received and treated a total of 825,000 tonnes of waste.

– All plastics ends up with us in the end. But we are not always visible in the discussions about plastics. Being part of STEPS gives us the opportunity to be involved and influence, says Ellen Lindblad, project manager at Sysav Utveckling.

Ellen Lindblad says that Sysav handles all plastics except packaging. Most of the plastics comes in mixed with other waste and gives rise to fossil CO2 emissions. Although FTI (Förpacknings- och tidningsinsamlingen) has the responsibility to take care of packaging, many do not sort out their packaging. Instead, they are thrown directly into the waste.

– There is a great deal of ignorance about how to sort your waste. About 1/3 of all waste from households consists of packaging. I think it has to do with many people finding it inconvenient to have to deal with food packaging,

Since the waste is incinerated, this means that a large amount of plastics with the potential to be recycled instead goes to electricity production and heating.

– The incineration of plastics accounts for the single largest share of our fossil carbon dioxide emissions. At the same time, plastics has a good calorific value. Obviously, this is an issue we (and the rest of society) need to work on. Upstream work is the most important thing, but we are also looking at the possibility of being able to separate carbon dioxide from the flue gases in the future.

Sysav and other Swedish facilities differ from most other similar waste facilities in Europe and America because the incineration goes to both heating and electricity production. Sixty percent of the district heating in Malmö and Burlöv today comes from garbage. Sysav also imports and sorts a small proportion of waste from other EU countries.

The company has now started looking at solutions to be able to capture in the carbon dioxide they produce in connection with the plant.

– Technology development is advancing by leaps and bounds. At the same time, our goal is that facilities like ours will not be needed in the long run. If we become better at reusing and recycling our things, we will significantly reduce the need for incineration. But it will take time, large amounts of waste are still landfilled within the EU (and in the rest of the world), which gives rise to emissions of methane – a gas that is highly harmful to the climate.

– Increased material recycling can reduce landfilling; incineration takes care of the residues that arise and also the waste that is not suitable for material recycling due to unsuitable properties (eg toxic).

Ellen Lindblad also wants to see better collaboration throughout the value chain – from design and production to recycling – something that STEPS can help to promote.

– Companies and researchers who have questions can come and talk to us. We have a lot of knowledge about how to make the sorting process easier. The materials should be easy to disassemble so that you can put them in the right container.

She continues: – Do not design materials or products that cannot be recycled. Think simple! And involve us who come last in the chain!

Last but not least, Ellen Lindblad believes that in addition to society’s increasing ability and knowledge to sort at source, we must also change how we as a society view plastics.

– We are so used to plastics being transparent and behaving in a certain way. But recycled plastics works just as well for many products, she concludes.