This is the title of a report released today by the Unity project, a collaboration between Mistra REES and Mistra STEPS.

The large number of different plastic variants with different additives used and mixed in various products causes major problems when recycling plastic material. Even if one succeeds in their recycling, the individual volumes of each separated plastic fraction with clear material properties are, however, currently often too small, making it difficult to find an actor that can reuse the plastic. Instead, virgin plastic raw material is being used, which increases the amount of plastic waste that cannot be recycled, and furthermore increases greenhouse gas emissions from both the production and waste incineration.

– In order to have a more circular and climate-neutral industry and society, we must bring about a change in this, which is also the starting point of the Unity project. Plastic is not bad in itself, but the problem is how we use this valuable material in our society, says Mattias Lindahl, program director at Mistra REES and one of the authors.

The report shows that a reduced number of thermoplastics would result in higher volumes of base plastics by the recycling companies, at which they can sell larger volumes of recycled plastic with higher quality at a lower price. That, in turn, would lead to a higher quality of recycling, as it should also become easier to collect and sort the plastics. In addition, financial benefits can be obtained throughout the value chain.

– The conclusion is that it is possible to reduce the number of thermoplastic variants in the plastics industry but not without the support of new laws and standards, says Mattias Lindahl.

The report is based on 63 interviews with those in the plastics industry, everything from manufacturers of thermoplastics and thermoplastic products to buyers, sellers, trade associations, and recycling companies to researchers and experts. Together they are proposing several measures, for example, to standardize more industry-wise and product-wise and allow only a certain selection of plastics, introduce labeling systems that facilitate the sorting for individuals, use transparent and recycled plastic where possible and use labels rather than coloring the whole packaging.

Unity is co-financed by Vinnova, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, and Swedish Waste Management. You can read the full report here:

Unity report in Swedish

Unity report in English

Watch the online seminar from November 23 on Vimeo