Trash with value

Author: Lena Barner-Rasmussen

Trash with value

Plastics are not in vogue these days. Consumers and decision-makers alike are waking up to the sorry state of our oceans. This global problem is actually a result of the extremely low recycling rates of plastic packaging materials presently. So what can we do about it? Walki's CEO Leif Frilund shares his view on the transition to a less fossil-depend world, and how a circular economy will help us make the most of our trash.

Today over 80% of our products are made out of plant-based renewables. By2030, we want that figure to be 100%.

Walki's strategy is to replace fossil-based plastics with bio-based solutions or with materials based on recycled plastic packaging. How will you do it?

Today, over 80% of our products are made out of plant-based renewables if you count in produced tonnes. By 2030, we want that figure to be 100%.
We can make the barriers with almost the same properties using plant-based materials such as agricultural waste, wood and slaughter residues. However, we also see a great potential in using polymers which have been made out of recycled plastics packaging materials, ie chemical recycling. In this way we can reuse materials which so far have been treated as waste.

So your new Technical Competence Center in Finland will stay busy coming up with new plant-based materials?

Yes it will! We have a pilot extrusion coating line that is completely reserved for testing out new ideas with the aim of not only serving our customers, but also contribute to a better future for our planet.

Everybody wants to move way from plastics. Why just don't we if it is technically feasible?

It's a bit more expensive. At the end of the day, it's for the end users – the consumers – to decide if they want to pay that extra price. However, with growing volumes the material prices will eventually come down. Obviously we also have to think about what plant-based materials we use and be mindful about not adding to more carbon emissions in our quest for plant-based materials. I think the big change will come if and hopefully when legislation forces brand owners to more transparency when it comes to communicating about what the packaging is made of, and what the end-of-life scenarios look like. What will happen with the packaging once the consumer is done with it?

So we need to teach the consumers?

Yes, and we are starting with the young. At Walki, we have teamed up with sociologist and UN Champion of the Earth Leila Acaroglu to teach grammar school students in Finland on the circular economy. The concept is called the Circular Classroom.

But you can also recycle plastics. Is that an option to hinder the plastics from entering our oceans?

It absolutely is. However, currently of all the fossil-based plastics we use, 98% is virgin materials and only 2 % is recycled back to the production streams. We need to change that. The attention so far has been mainly on mechanical recycling, which is when you sort your trashes and take the plastics trash to a recycling centre. But it's cumbersome and as packaging is made out of different plastics, the end product is not clean. The future potential lies in chemical recycling where you do it on an industrial level and break down the plastic back into the original molecules to make so called brown oil. This can then be used as feedstock for producing new polymers.

Today, plastic packaging flows are mainly linear and only 2 percent is going back as raw-material for production of new packaging materials. Imagine if we could make the packaging flow truly circular?

So we won't have a completely plastic-free future?

No, because at the end of the day plastics are still in many ways a great material. But it doesn't have to be based on fresh fossils, i.e. crude oil. The big problem with plastics is that we don't recycle it in an industrial and efficient way, having it end up in our oceans causing harm to our precious ocean life. The key lies in creating a well-functioning circular economy based on recycling and reuse. Without it, we let economic value; that is plastics, float around in our oceans. How smart is that?

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