Skip to main content
RISE logo
Textiles for recycling

Time to build trust in recycled materials

Today, many companies set goals for using recycled materials. But far too few actually do so. So how do we build trust in using recycled materials on a large scale – and how do we get everyone involved to accept the challenges it entails? 
“It’s often more expensive,” says Christina Jönsson, a department head at RISE. “Traceability is uncertain. And the quality varies. This is, of course, challenging.” 

In its Circular Economy Action Plan, the EU aims to double the share of recycled materials used in the Union between 2020 and 2030. The stated aim is to reduce the extraction of so-called virgin materials and the production of new raw materials. But, so far, the transition is slow, not least because of low acceptance among end consumers, gaps in technology and system development, and uncertainty linked to recycled raw materials. 

Low pace of transition stems from uncertainty 

In 2021, the proportion of recycled material corresponded to 11.7% of the materials used in the EU, an increase of only 1% since 2010. 

“Several companies are not ready to take decisions that would have a real impact,” says Peter Stigson, Research and Business Developer at RISE. 

There are many reasons for this, including uncertainty about traceability and quality, as well as long-term availability. 

“It’s true that there is a lot of variation in the availability of recycled products right now,” says Jönsson. “But remember, in the long run, the opposite is true: access to virgin material will be similar to the situation with oil. Other raw materials, such as cotton, which requires an unreasonable amount of water and area to cultivate, are becoming increasingly problematic. In other cases, we will have a type of material competition. For example, what should we use Swedish forests for? Clothes, paper, house, energy...? We will not be able to do everything, but must find ways to instead recycle and reuse what is what we can.” 

One example is the critical metals and minerals that will be needed in the energy transition. Here, RISE has carried assessments on the long-term availability: 

“These must also enter the recycling cycle. Less than one percent is recycled today.” 

Traceability challenging but important 

And equally important is our common approach to recycling. Peter Stigson has headed up expert groups with a focus on increased traceability and circular economy from a system perspective. An interesting question was how the sometimes problematic history of the original material should be viewed. Take cobalt as an example, which may have been mined in a reprehensible way, many people feel that it should be recycled since it is already in circulation. But can recycling really erase a sense of guilt? And how should the history of a material be communicated? 

“Our group of experts concluded that you can’t just ignore the origin of a material – it must be regulated and communicated in some way. But this is complex, particularly when it comes to metals that are melted down and mixed time after time. The way the issue of responsibility and information should be viewed is more akin to philosophy, ethics, and morality. The important thing is that everyone, not least consumers, understands the problem and accepts the solution.” 

Christina Jönsson: 

“A circular economy requires trade-offs, for example, when it comes to the properties and sometimes even the quality of recycled materials.” 

A circular economy requires trade-offs

Customers must accept new ways of thinking 

A clear example is the concept of mass balance, which means that companies mix a certain amount of recycled material into a production run. This means that individual products, such as a bag, may not contain the amount of recycled material claimed by the company, but the series itself does over time. 

“This is a concept that some find difficult to accept,” says Stigson. “If someone buys a backpack that is stated to consist of 50 percent recycled, the person expects that particular bag to contain that percentage. But on a larger scale, it doesn’t work that way, and if the major manufacturers are to accept recycled material, they need to be able to set targets over time.” 

Long list of policies now becoming regulations 

A lot of changes will be noticeable in the future. On the one hand, numerous policies at both EU level and international level have now been adopted and have started to trickle down as regulations. 

“But we are also starting to reach a point where we are achieving both a technical and regulatory level and becoming more willing to make investments,” says Jönsson. “There has previously been a lack of technologies, operators, traceability systems, logistics systems... Now, politics is also pushing us in that direction and processes and technology are starting to become more commonplace.”


  1. Build confidence in mass balance. If we have consensus and create understanding, the major players will be willing to include recycled materials in their production runs. 
  2. Create confidence in the properties. Through tests, we can ensure that recycled materials have the right properties. This needs to be done quickly and efficiently. In this, RISE’s testbeds serve an important function. 
  3. Increase recycling of building materials. A large, important sector in which systems for effective on-site testing may need to be identified, so that large quantities of building materials do not need to be transported to external control sites. This is necessary to ensure that those who will use the material feel confident in its properties. 
  4. Solve the issue regarding origin. How high can requirements be before it becomes too complicated, especially for melted metals? How can we responsibility for the original material be regulated? 
  5. Bring small companies on board. Large companies have their own solutions and strategies, but without all the small companies we will not be able to make a real difference. RISE helps by providing access to test facilities, coaching, support, and networks
Christina Jönsson

Contact person

Christina Jönsson


+46 70 780 60 98

Read more about Christina

Contact Christina
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

* Mandatory By submitting the form, RISE will process your personal data.

Peter Stigson

Contact person

Peter Stigson


+46 10 516 66 73

Read more about Peter

Contact Peter
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

* Mandatory By submitting the form, RISE will process your personal data.