Mistra Closing the loop

Society’s growing consumption generates ever more waste. Mistra’s Closing the Loop research programme seeks to foster greater use of secondary raw materials and make this sector more competitive.

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What is the challenge?

The more society consumes, the more waste we produce. This applies in manufacturing, as elsewhere. Huge quantities of waste are generated, mainly in mining but also in other industrial sectors such as paper, steel and construction. Materials are recovered from only a small proportion of industrial waste: currently about 10% overall. The challenge is to enlarge this share. Metals, chemicals, plastic and other usable materials are still being discarded as waste. Retrieving them through proper materials recovery is a way of closing the loops in society. Well-designed recovery processes help to save natural resources and reduce environmental emissions. A functioning market for secondary raw materials will be required. ‘The purpose of Closing the Loop is to contribute innovative thinking and enable various sectors to meet and learn from one another. Instead of focusing on end-of-life products and materials, we describe material flows and their characteristics, and in so doing try to boost the use of recovered material.’ Evalena Blomqvist, Programme Director

How can the  programme  contribute to a solution?

This research seeks to develop, analyse and demonstrate ways of using secondary raw materials, thereby helping to make them more commercially viable. Processes involving increased use of secondary resources from, for example, vehicle scrapping, construction and demolition works, battery recycling and paper mills will be developed in the projects. In addition, the programme aspires to make the issue more prominent and clarify needs for prioritisation between resource efficiency and a non-toxic environment. The programme will also help enhance knowledge among government agencies and producers with resource-efficient circular flows. Many of the projects have participants from several parts of the value chain, and also agencies, in their project groups. This offers good scope for generating dialogue and knowledge transfer. The programme will spread knowledge concerning resource-efficient cycles by discussing and presenting facts about obstacles and opportunities, at a seminar to which people from the agencies concerned are invited. A key aspect of the programme is facilitating collaboration among different industrial sectors. Among the six individual research projects (see list below) included in the programme, involving various industries, there will be continuous exchange of thoughts and ideas during the programme period. Research relevant to the entire programme will also be conducted on drivers for and barriers to readjustment, and policies of importance for the area’s development will be analysed. The six projects and the overall questions they address (with stakeholders in charge in brackets) are listed below:

  • EBaR (environmental battery recycling): How can we recover more from alkaline batteries? (Swerea MEFOS)
  • Constructivate (sustainable recycling of construction and demolition waste): How can more construction and demolition waste be recycled? (Chalmers Industriteknik, a Chalmers University of Technology foundation)
  • Mistra Fines (improved by-product valorisation on the critical technical market and policy challenges for reuse of shredder fine residues): Can recycling mixed residual fractions be made more profitable? (Linköping University)
  • CiMMREC (circular models for mixed- and multi-material recycling in manufacturing): Can improved collaboration close recycling loops? (Swerea IVF)
  • GLAD: Can by-products from the paper industry reduce emissions from mining slag heaps?
  • Explore (exploring scope for promoting commercialisation of vehicle recycling): How can we recover more of the materials contained in vehicles when they are scrapped? (IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute)

Who will benefit from the results?

Results from the programme will be disseminated broadly to government agencies and other relevant stakeholders — recyclers and producers alike. Other researchers, too, may benefit from the projects and programme. By joining actively in projects, stakeholders derive benefit during the actual project processes as well. Successful projects that boost industry’s materials recovery can reduce society’s environmental impact and help Sweden to achieve its waste-related national environmental quality objectives. Increased materials recovery is a priority both in Swedish legislation and in the EU.