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Plastic in Sweden - Facts and practical advice

  • Published on October 30, 2023

Well-founded decisions must be made if we are to use plastic where it has the most benefit. This requires knowledge of the current situation: how plastic is used, the amount of plastic waste that is generated, how waste is processed and information about the most significant sources and routes for the spread of plastic in the environment.

The mapping of plastic flows in Sweden aims to provide this knowledge for 2020. In some cases, where there is a lack of data for 2020, information from 2019 or 2018 has been used instead.

Use plastic where it provides the most benefit:

Plastic is of huge importance in contemporary society. We use plastic for almost everything in our everyday lives, and consumption is expected to increase. Plastic’s varying properties mean that it has many areas of use, but our high level of plastic consumption causes environmental impact in all areas of its lifecycle, from extracting raw materials to waste treatment and leakage into nature.

Waste leads to great climate impact: The central element of plastic’s environmental impact is its strong dependence on fossil-based materials, as most plastic is produced from fossil oil and gas. Additionally, the extraction and production processes require large amounts of power that is often fossil in origin. Our high level of plastic consumption also leads to large amounts of plastic waste, which is usually incinerated and the energy recovered. Greenhouse gas emissions occur when plastic waste is incinerated, with over 90 per cent of carbon emissions due to energy recovery from waste in Sweden estimated as coming from fossil-based plastic.

Plastic is high on the agenda: Utilising the advantages of plastic while minimising its disadvantages is at the top of the agenda in Sweden, the EU and globally. In Sweden, plastic is among the prioritised flows that are highlighted in the strategy for a circular economy. The government’s action plan for plastic presents how work should be carried out to achieve a sustainable use of plastic, and the EU has chosen to highlight plastic as one of the seven prioritised product value chains in its circular economy action plan. 

Producers must take responsibility: In Sweden, producers have a legislated responsibility for a number of products made from plastic. This means that producers must report current volumes, as well as collecting and managing the products when they are no longer in use. Products that contain plastic and which are covered by producer responsibility are packaging, PET bottles, vehicles and electrical and electronic products. There is a voluntary agreement for agricultural plastic.

Single-use plastic must be reduced: The EU has introduced a directive to reduce the consumption of single-use plastic products. These products are defined as being entirely or partially made from plastic and are not designed, constructed or introduced on the market for return to a producer to be refilled or reused for the same purpose. Sweden introduced a tax on plastic carrier bags in May 2020, entailing a higher price for these bags and stores beginning to charge even for the thinnest bags. In addition, a prohibition on some single-use plastic products was introduced on 1 January 2022, along with requirements for marking, collection, information and targets for reduced use. This prohibition covers items such as cotton buds, cutlery, plates, drink stirrers, straws, etc.

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