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In tomorrow’s closed loop, waste is a resource

The world is facing enormous global challenges as available resources are over exploited. The RE:Source strategic innovation programme is Sweden's largest investment in research and innovation in the field of sustainable materials recycling, a vital component of the transition to a circular economy.

Globally, humankind consumes the resources of 1.6 Earth’s. According to the Global Footprint Network and World Wildlife Fund, in Sweden we live and consume as if we had around four Earth’s at our disposal. In order to secure a sustainable future, we must reduce our extraction of resources from the planet.

– RE:Source is intended to create innovations for the sustainable utilisation of materials, thereby contributing to Sweden’s competitiveness. "Rise is responsible for coordinating the project in the form of a programme office,” explains RISE researcher and RE:Source programme director Evalena Blomqvist.

No less than 150 different, wide-ranging projects have been initiated during the three years of the innovation programme’s existence. Research topics include plastics, textiles, food, electronics and construction and demolition waste.

– The list may become even longer: an incredible breadth is required in order to meet this important challenge. The solutions must come from many areas of society, meaning that we need both depth and breadth,” says Evalena Blomqvist.

Recycling construction and demolition waste increases sustainability

One of many ongoing projects concerns the recycling of construction and demolition waste. A lack of coordination leads to enormous amounts of construction and demolition waste being unnecessarily transported over long distance every year. Some of this is deposited in landfills, even though it could be used in other contexts where demands on component parts are different.

– One of our strategic projects is Increased Use of Secondary Materials. Our intention is to reduce the use of virgin materials by effectively utilising the enormous amounts of waste materials generated in the building industry, something that is not the case today. This is an issue that rarely garners as much publicity as, say, recycled garments did as Christmas Gift of the Year 2018; however, the potential is enormous in terms of increasing circulation and creating sustainable materials utilisation.

Fixoteket makes it easy to repair, borrow, exchange and recycle

A project currently underway in Gothenburg has created local fixoteks, repair libraries where residents can borrow tools to repair their broken objects. Fixoteks are also home to mini recycling centres. The idea is that it should be easy to repair, borrow, exchange and recycle old objects, so that we can consume more sustainably. It remains to be seen whether other municipalities will introduce fixoteks; however, the methods being developed within the RE:Source project should ideally be used by more stakeholders.

– We are looking for scalable solutions that can be used by as many people as possible, so that we can contribute to changing norms and renewal. If a project develops a business model for the shared economy, we want many companies to be able to use the same method.

Strengthening Swedish stakeholders internationally

The research being conducted under the RE:Source umbrella is also about looking at larger structures, such as providing valuable decision-making support; for example, facts relating to how instruments of control can be used effectively. RE:Source is intended to contribute to the international competitiveness and attractiveness of Swedish stakeholders.

– Of course, much of this deals with things that, deep down, we all find it easy to understand; for example, that we use more resources if we constantly buy new clothes. It is smarter if we can use the same thing for a longer period of time. That said, we need to identify structures to achieve this, and one important task for RE:Source is to invest in those initiatives that have the greatest impact. We combine research and innovation so that materials are used in a sustainable manner.

In total, the programme’s financiers, the Swedish Energy Agency, Formas and Vinnova, have distributed in the region of SEK 150 million to various projects within the framework of RE:Source. All projects are 50% self-financing.

Strategic Innovation Programs

Strategic innovation programmes bring together the private and public sectors and academia to develop the sustainable products and services of tomorrow. By collaborating in fields identified as strategically important, Sweden’s international appeal will be increased. There are currently 17 strategic innovation programmes in Sweden funded by Vinnova, the Swedish Energy Agency and Swedish research council Formas.