Editorial 16.6.2021

How to double the circular material use rate

Juha-Heikki Tanskanen
Juha-Heikki Tanskanen

A new circular economy programme was introduced in Finland in the spring. One of the goals of the programme is to double the circular material use rate by 2035 (Government resolution, 8 April 2021). If successful, 14 per cent of the demand for materials in production and consumption could be met by waste raw materials. What does this goal mean in practice?

The circular material use rate is an indicator for the circular economy, as monitored by Statistics Finland. In 2018, Finland’s circular material use rate was 7 per cent. Of all the material used (204 million tonnes), 7 per cent (15 million tonnes) was recovered. If all waste (125 million tonnes) would be recycled, the circular material use rate would be 61 per cent. Of course, a figure this high is theoretical, as recycling all waste is neither a sensible nor even achievable goal.

While 14 per cent does not sound overly ambitious, this goal is, in reality, very demanding. What makes doubling the circular material use rate so difficult is the fact that the majority of waste in Finland is by-products of mining and quarrying. There is a need to find new uses for the mineral matter that would replace the use of virgin materials.

In 2018, approximately 80 million tonnes of material was stored for long-term use, i.e. in structures and buildings. As long as our society grows and develops, the need for materials cannot be met simply by recycling waste. In the pursuit of a carbon-neutral circular economy, it is important to minimise the unnecessary use of materials as well as to recycle.