Every year a new wave of mobile phones, computers and other technological gadgets floods the market. Although innovative products can be exciting for consumers, they are also stumbling blocks that hinder the development of a circular and resource-efficient economy. These new products often contain components made of complex materials that are difficult to recycle.
– When we examine the design of these products we can identify multiple trends that hinder a circular flow. For example, the trend toward miniaturization, everything has to be smaller and smarter, and this makes it difficult to recycle materials at the end of the value chain. Materials are also becoming more complex which makes them difficult to disassemble at the end of their life cycle, says Hanna Ljungkvist at IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute.
When new designs are launched every year this means that waste companies have to struggle to customize sorting and recycling technologies to keep pace. A mobile phone can, for example, contain up to 50 different types of metal. Plastic can be complex as well, and contain a variety of additives and polymeric types, which makes recycling tougher.
– It is also difficult for recycled plastic to compete with new plastic because the current price of the latter is so low. The combination of these factors means that there are fewer economic incentives to adapt to a circular economy, says Hanna Ljungkvist.
To meet these challenges, the NEW EU project InnoNet has assembled experts from a range of industries specialized in electronics, automotive and plastics manufacturing in an attempt to identify bottlenecks in materials and waste streams. The project will develop new business opportunities and partnerships and bolster the position of waste issues on the European political agenda. IVL plays a vital role in the project and is in the forefront of the effort to develop a strategic research and innovation agenda to minimize waste. The Agenda will be completed in 2017.
-The project aims to identify the needs and wishes of the industry, and to relay to EU decision makers where it will be necessary to apply research and innovation efforts in order to ramp up resource efficiency. The idea is that the agenda we coordinate will speak to future EU research programmes in the wake of Horizon 2020, says Hanna Ljungkvist.
She believes that there is need for more communication between specialists and practitioners over the entire value chain.
The stakeholder platform established in NEW InnoNet will hopefully allow us to promote mutual cooperation between actors, encourage them to exchange views and share information. Transforming waste into a resource should be profitable, it reduces costs, create new revenue streams and makes businesses more competitive.
NEW InnoNet (Near-Zero Waste Innovation Network) is a research project under the auspices of the EU Horizon 2020 program with a view to developing circular flow in the waste sector. The project is led by Dutch PNO Consultants and the consortium includes IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute, together with ten other partners from different European countries. www.newinnonet.eu