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  • Writer's pictureJari Lehtinen

Circular transformation: Finland serves as an example in how to bring the plastics value chain together to drive the transformation

Plastic pollution is one of the key issues facing our society — on the one hand is the need to retain the use of a safe, durable, versatile material, and, on the other, the indisputable problems caused by how it is currently produced, used and disposed of.

The solution to this is clear: a transformation of the lifecycle of plastics from linear to circular, so that modern life can keep moving forward, without cost to the planet.

Driving the green transition in Europe

While many individual plastics producers, manufacturers, brands and NGOs are taking promising steps, tackling a challenge of this scale needs unified, concerted action, taken with all levels of government including local, national and international levels.

In Europe, the EU Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) was set up in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic to mitigate the impact of the crisis on member countries and support them to emerge stronger through grasping the opportunities of the green and digital transitions [1]. Enabling the green transition is crucial to Europe’s effort to reach its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, and measures supported by the fund include those that tackle climate change and reduce waste [2].

Finland is taking bold strides

One country that is setting an ambitious pace is Finland, which is targeting carbon neutrality by 2035 [3], fifteen years ahead of the EU’s overall goal. With a portion of its RRF allocation, it is offering leading companies the chance to apply for co-funding for ambitious research, development, and innovation projects. Through public sector organisation Business Finland, it has hosted annual challenge competitions since 2020, with the aim of supporting projects that have the potential to make real progress on increasing sustainability [4].

Projects in receipt of funding include a number of different businesses in Finland.

The SPIRIT programme aims to lead a major transformation for the plastics industry

In the 2022 challenge competition, Borealis Finland secured support for the SPIRIT Programme, a EUR 50 million endeavour to lead a major transformation for the entire plastics.

industry. The programme will be based at Borealis Finland’s Porvoo facility, and will run from 2022 to 2025 [5].

‘SPIRIT' comes from the words ‘Sustainable Plastics Industry Transformation’, but it also reflects the spirit that currently prevails at Borealis. With our integrated circular cascade model, we intend to lead the way to a future which is circular in plastic and carbon for our industry.

The programme has four pillars:

  1. Transition fossil feedstock into renewable and recycled feedstock;

  2. Establish efficient systems for the large-scale mechanical and chemical recycling of plastics;

  3. Achieve carbon-neutral production of plastics; and

  4. Establish new enablers for the green transition, for example through furthering design for recycling and advocating for regulatory standardisation.

Unlocking the power of the entire value chain

Business Finland are supplying 40% of the funding for the programme, and have set aside an additional EUR 50 million to support parallel partnership projects. This means that our ecosystem partners, whether companies, research institutes, or consortiums made up of both, can apply for funding to work on related challenges. This will make all the difference to what the programme can achieve, as it unlocks the power of the entire value chain.

Through collaboration, we can tackle the plastics dilemma from all angles – addressing engineering challenges, investing in technological breakthroughs, improving product design, and shaping behaviours around recycling.

Although the programme is in its early stages, we’ve seen a lot of enthusiasm to participate – a launch event in early June attracted some 150 representatives from around 100 companies. Three parallel partnership projects have already received the green light, including Project DREAM from Rani Plast, a producer of smart packaging solutions.

Over the course of the programme, together with our value chain partners, we intend to explore a wide variety of areas, but right now, our priority is to establish a reliable, high-volume source of renewable feedstock from biomass, beginning by looking at by-products from the large forestry industry in Finland.

There are three funding calls per year for parallel partnership projects, and we’re keen to hear from organisations operating in Finland who want to get involved in any of these areas.

Leading the SPIRIT Programme represents a personal high point in my three-decade career at Borealis. As a bird watcher and a nature lover, I believe passionately in protecting the biodiversity of our planet, and in the need to use the earth’s resources responsibly. I’m excited to see what the RRF fund can achieve across Europe, and hope that the SPIRIT programme, as well as all the other initiatives supported by the fund across Europe, can make the breakthroughs that are needed to enable the green transition on a global scale.

Driving the Sustainable Plastics Industry Transformation

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