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Plastic in Sweden, facts and practical advice

  • Published on December 14, 2021

This document is part of a mapping of plastic flows that has been conducted at the request of the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency. It is a summary of the report Kartläggning av plastflöden i Sverige (Mapping Plastic Flows in Sweden), and it presents the current knowledge of plastics in Sweden. The summary contains information about how much plastic is being used and what happens to it afterwards. In 2016, up to 1,258,000 tons of plastic raw materials entered the Swedish market, which is is equivalent to around 130 kg per person. Currently, most of this waste material is being incinerated for energy recovery. However, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it is important to increase the material recycling of plastic. Consequently, this document also presents suggestions and solutions for how to increase plastic recycling through focusing on businesses, individuals and decisionmakers.

Plastic is everywhere, all around us, damaging our environment. Nevertheless, plastic consumption is still increasing steadily, and so is the amount of plastic waste worldwide. Some plastic material of today is stored in products with a long life, including vehicles, buildings and infrastructure. Meanwhile, many individuals use disposable plastic products that rapidly become problematic waste. This resource identifies the main problems within waste recycling systems of today while creating solutions to fix them. Businesses, organizations and individuals are also given guidance on how they may promote improved recycling of plastics.

Most plastic waste is currently disposed of as "mixed waste". This type of waste is eventually being incinerated in plants that produce heat and power, but the process of doing this is resulting in significant greenhouse gas emissions. Almost all plastics currently in the market are also manufactured from fossil-based raw materials, which must also be addressed for environmental concerns. Since only a fraction of plastics undergo the proper material recycling, there is demand for better mapping of plastic waste flows that will facilitate the process of improving current recycling systems. Many more plastic products must also be designed in a way that allows the material to be recycled properly.

There are many different types of plastic of which the most common ones in Europe are polypropylene and polyethylene. In Sweden, producers must report current volumes of plastics, and the collecting and managing of the products when they are no longer in use. One goal of the legislation is to encourage the development of products that use fewer resources. The aim is to also make it easier to recycle plastic and promote materials free of substances that are harmful to the environment and people. Nevertheless; organizations, businesses and the public are needed to succeed in the development of efficient recycling systems.

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