In a circular economy materials need to be recycled – not hazardous substances

Press release 2017-06-05 at 13:07

In a circular economy the aim is for products and materials to be kept in use for as long as possible, but the material cycles should not impose risks on people or the environment. The Policy Brief publication of the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) contains recommendations on how to get hazardous materials out of circulation.

"A central issue is good product design and keeping the chemical information of a product available throughout the cycle. A well-designed product can be recycled in parts, if necessary, in which case it is possible to take into consideration the material composition of the different parts", says Sari Kauppi, Senior Research Scientist at SYKE.

Availability of chemical information needs to be ensured

The material to be recycled varies with respect to composition, age, and origin. The utilisation of waste as recycled material can entail a risk of hazardous materials being re-introduced into new products. To avoid the recycling of hazardous materials, chemical information should be passed on along with the products and materials. Digital tools enable the management of large volumes of data and the information could be linked with the products through the use of bar codes, for instance.

"We need to develop both rapid measurement techniques and precise, comparable methods of analysis for hazardous materials. It is only on the basis of measurement that we can evaluate the exposure of people and the environment. The EU needs to develop quality standards for recycled raw materials, and to set more limit values for the content of hazardous substances", says Head of Contaminants Unit Jaakko Mannio.

Database for finding non-hazardous alternatives

Tools for finding non-hazardous alternatives also need to be developed. The database for alternatives to hazardous substances could be especially helpful for small and medium-sized enterprises. In connection with the Information Platform for Chemical Monitoring (IPCheM) there should also be an information centre for advice on the subject.

Environmental labels granted to products help consumers identify environmentally friendly products in which energy efficiency, climate impact, and chemical load have been taken into account. Products imported from outside the EU should also meet the requirements of recyclability.

"The most dangerous substances should be removed from circulation at the end of the product's life cycle. Nowadays information about substances often does not quite reach the waste management level. In the future, products could have an electronic label detailing the materials they contain", Tuuli Myllymaa, Head of the Waste Management unit at SYKE suggests.

"For companies the circular economy brings opportunities to earn money from services, such as leasing, in which service is sold, rather than products. In such a case the enterprise is responsible for the servicing of the product or exchanging it for a new one. At the same time the manufacturer of the product could be responsible for the chemicals when they are repaired and their materials are recovered for reuse.”

The State of the Environment report sheds light on the circular economy in Finland

In addition to Policy Brief, SYKE publishes the State of the Environment report examining the use of natural resources in Finland from various points of view. "Shifting to a circular economy will not succeed with the help of market forces alone. Instead, we also need public guidance, so that new solutions might be actively developed and taken into use, thereby speeding up the establishment of a market for the circular economy", researcher Riina Antikainen emphasises.

The Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) will publish four information packages during 2017 focusing on different aspects of the state of the environment in Finland today and in the future, to mark the country’s 100th anniversary of independence. The first State of the Environment information package, on water, appeared in March and the next one, on urban nature, will be made public in August.


Futher information

  • Policy Brief
    Senior research scientist Sari Kauppi,  Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE , tel. 0295 251 268
  • State of the environment report
    Senior research scientist Riina Antikainen, SYKE, tel. 0295 251 146
  • Communications
    Communications chief Sirpa Pellinen, SYKE, tel. 0295 251 502
    email addresses: