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Pressrelease | 2024-04-19
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How design can help increase plastics recycling

How can we increase the recycling of plastic products? Plastic is often used unnecessarily or in combinations that make recycling difficult. Researchers at IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute have identified seven measures that can be implemented at the design stage to increase recycling.

The image shows a woman

Sara Brännström

"The design phase is fundamental to the recyclability of plastic products. The choice of materials, colours, additives and how the products can be disassembled all affect how recyclable they are. Today it is often difficult to distinguish plastic from other materials in a product, or to disassemble different types of plastic in order to recycle the material and preserve its quality and economic value. We need to change this”, says Sara Brännström, expert in safe and sustainable chemistry at IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute.

Global production of plastics totals a staggering 400 million tonnes, and projections suggest this figure will triple by 2060 if nothing is done. Currently, only nine per cent of plastic waste is recycled, indicating a clear lack of circularity in the life cycle of plastics.

The Environmental Protection Agency in Sweden has identified four main obstacles leading to the low recycling of plastics: lack of incentives for design for recycling, difficulties in separating different types of plastic waste, low demand, and poor traceability of the recycled raw material.

"In the project, we have identified a number of areas where design criteria can increase the recycling of products containing plastic. These can be developed into criteria that need to be discussed and accepted in different industries. We also need to collaborate internationally to develop a global standard for design for the recycling of this type of product”, says Emma Strömberg, plastics expert at IVL.

To learn what challenges the industry faces, interviews were conducted with companies that use plastic materials in their products, and with various recycling industries.

"Much of this project has aimed at disseminating knowledge that may already exist in certain industries, but the entire value chain needs to be educated, in order to increase understanding, so that more people will do the right thing. Both when designing products and in order to understand what is sustainable, for example when consumers choose different products, and how to handle different products after end use", says Sara Brännström.

Download the report: Design for recycling of products containing plastics External link, opens in new window.

For more information, contact:
Sara Brännström, sara.brannstrom@ivl.se, tel. +46 (0) 10 788 65 12
Emma Strömberg, emma.stromberg@ivl.se, tel. +46 (0) 10 788 68 31

The project is funded by Vinnova, and is implemented in collaboration with Stiftelsen Svensk Industridesign (SVID), Remondis, PreZero, Carl F, Avfall Sverige, Noun Design Studio, BAS ID, HL Display, Mape Plastics and Duni.

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