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Pia Vilenius: Circularity can happen – but not without collaboration

The European Chemical Industry has recently launched its goals for 2050. The aim is that by then, the European economy has gone circular, recycling all kinds of molecules into new raw materials. The chemical industry is at the centre of this evolution, acting both as a producer of products valued by society and as a leader in recycling. The issue of plastic waste in the environment has been tackled by utilising efficient technologies like chemical recycling.

The key is to innovate toward circular models, to lead on sustainability and to be at the forefront of new technologies, and also integrating more closely with sectors outside the chemical industry. At the very centre of this is the safe management of chemicals in the supply chain and throughout their life cycle. The recently adopted Council conclusions “More circularity – Transition to a sustainable society” have very similar objectives. It urges the Commission and the Member States to support pilots and upscaling of innovative technologies, such as the chemical, advanced mechanical or solvent-based recycling of plastics.

The technologies with the biggest impact on the chemical industry are expected to be in recycling and low-carbon synthesis processes from circular feedstocks including CO2 and carbon storage, together with digitalisation and the electrification of the industry. The Finnish chemical industry has set an ambitious goal to be carbon neutral by 2045. Efficient management of CO2, minimizing our carbon footprint and maximising our carbon handprint, will help us achieve this goal.

Chemistry is central to the idea of circular economy, as recycling processes are fundamentally chemical. Recycling incentives, recyclability-by-design, blockchain and new business models based on leasing will make it easier to manage valuable raw materials in products throughout their life cycle. Carbon from processes will be captured, re-used and recycled as a valuable feedstock. It is technically possible to recycle almost every type of waste, especially if products are designed to be reused and recycled.  

The chemical industry supports collaboration with value chain partners and other important partners to avoid recyclable end-of-life plastics ending up in the environment and to develop solutions that help achieve a higher circularity in plastic value chains. The aim is also to develop an industry-wide strategy for managing the risks of substances of concern in a circular economy. In the near future, the chemical industry will invest in large scale chemical recycling that can utilise many valuable materials that are currently wasted, including plastic. We can transform these materials back into hydrocarbon feedstock while carefully managing substances of concern.

Pia Vilenius

Chief Advisor, Bioeconomy and Circular Economy //
Senior Advisor, Environment