Finland has been one of the most forward-looking countries in adopting the circular economy, creating the world’s first national circular economy roadmap for 2016–2025. Both big companies and startups have also been moving actively towards it in their business development.
Last year, the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra held the first World Circular Economy Forum in Helsinki. As the second WCEF is going to take place in Yokohama this autumn, Finnfacts organised a media tour for Japanese journalists to present Finnish knowhow of the circular economy. This covered a wide spectrum, from waste collection and renewable energy to new innovative material development and solutions for daily life.
1. Circular economy practice in daily life
Amerplast has developed ESSI, the first Finnish circular bag produced from post-consumer plastic packaging waste that is made of up to 95 per cent recycled materials and has been widely used in Finnish grocery stores. It occupies around 35 per cent of the plastic shopping bag market in Finland.
Elsewhere, Lassila & Tikanoja has developed the application WasteMaster (Hävikkimestari) to help Finnish chain restaurants track their food waste. By utilising analysed data in the application, restaurants can reduce food waste significantly through careful planning.
“The best way to deal with food waste is to prevent it, as this is the only way to enable restaurants to make long-term profit,” says Jarna Hyvönen, business manager for material efficiency and environmental services from Lassila & Tikanoja. “For example, the Leijona restaurant chain saved over 100 tonnes of food waste last year by using our application.”
2. Renewable energy from the forest industry
The Finnish forest industry has been among the most active players in implementing the circular economy. According to Metsä Fibre, the forest industry is based on circulation. Water, chemical and other resources circulate in processes and all side streams can be used efficiently. Its new bioproduct mill in Äänekoski develops bioproducts such as product gas, sulphuric acid, biogas and biofuel pellets. “In our Äänekoski refinery, there is no fossil-based fuel, all the fuels are wood based or bio based,” says Niklas von Weymarn, research director of Metsä Fibre.
Another Finnish forest company, UPM, has developed the wood-based biofuel BioVerno to meet the future challenges caused by the enormous footprint of transportation. It has gained international recognition for its bioenergy industry leadership. “25 per cent of total emissions in Europe are from transportation, and renewable fuels are absolutely needed to solve the common challenge,” says Marko Janhunen, director of public affairs and stakeholder relations from UPM. “For biofuels, we are also looking for opportunities of scaling up.”
3. Smart waste collection system
With over 30 years of experience in the pipe waste collection system, Marimatic has already supplied almost 1 000 systems in more than 40 countries. MetroTaifun, an automatic solid waste collection system (ASWC), is a smart system especially for collecting municipal waste.
Compared to the traditional pipe collection system, MetroTaifun’s inlets are smaller and can be opened with a radio-frequency identification (RFID) key. The pipe system is also smaller with better energy efficiency, thanks to the choice of materials.
“Compared to one of our competitors, our system saves installation cost and has lower energy consumption,” says Sami Kääpä, system development manager of MariMatic. The MetroTaifun system has been in use, for instance, in a new residential area in Kruunuvuorenranta in Helsinki since 2017.
4. Waste to energy
Gasum is the biggest biogas producer in the Nordic countries, and its biogas plant in Riihimäki serves as a good example of how biodegradable waste from food and other industries can be used for producing biogas. Some environmentally conscious companies have also switched to Gasum’s biogas for their production. The Helsinki Distilling Company has been using biogas made from its own production waste, while Marimekko is using biogas at its printing factory.
Being the leading energy producer in Finland, Fortum has developed clean energy solutions that emphasise resource efficiency and the diverse use of different fuels. One example is its combined heat and power (CHP) plant in Järvenpää, where local biomasses such as forest residues, sawdust, horse manure and bark are all used as energy sources.
“The majority of the energy produced here is CO2 neutral,” says Tero Mäntylä, head of production at Fortum. “In Järvenpää and Tuusula, our production has produced 82 per cent less CO2 emissions than before.”
5. Material innovation
Finland has also a lot to offer in developing new sustainable materials. Interestingly, many of the innovators are spin-off startups from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, such as the award-winning Paptic and Infinited Fiber Company.
Infinited Fiber Company produces cotton-like textile fibres from waste materials and residue biomaterials. Paptic has invented a new wood fibre-based material that has the properties of plastic.
Bigger companies are also involved in the material research. For instance, the Finnish design brand Marimekko has started to cooperate with Spinnova, another VTT spin-off startup, to develop wood-based textiles free of chemical solvents.
Meanwhile, Sulapac has developed a new biodegradable packaging material that offers all the benefits of plastic without containing any plastic.
Last, but certainly not least, even nutrition production can be more sustainable with novel innovation. Solar Foods has developed a new kind of protein out of air and received funding for its further development.
Text: Tsui-Shan Tu