In the waste hierarchy, which indicates the order of priority for how waste should be managed, Sweden has been early, in principle, to abandon landfill.
Recycling of energy and materials is well developed, and the country has taken steps towards increasing reuse of materials in order to extend the life of products.
But development towards the top of the hierarchy is proceeding slowly, mainly because it requires totally new ways of thinking for waste operations, new methods and new systems.
To address this, Samsa, an umbrella organisation for municipal waste operations in the south of Sweden, is conducting an innovation procurement programme with support from Vinnova, the Swedish innovation agency.
Samsa is looking for a solution that can take Sweden up the waste hierarchy and complement or replace recycling centres. This is one of the first innovation procurements in the country to be implemented in what is known as ‘pre-commercial procurement’. This means procurement of research and development (R&D) projects which takes place outside the traditional rules governing public procurement procedures.
There are currently around 600 recycling centres in Sweden. About 100 of these are operated by Samsa members. Swedish recycling centres receive around 20 million visits every year. About 30% of all household waste is collected via recycling centres, and reuse is very low. This is not surprising because such centres are basically designed as waste collection facilities, so systems and information are based on this.
For Samsa, is it important that the answer is ecologically, socially and economically sustainable. There should be major development potential through innovative solutions which can replace or supplement recycling centres.
But it requires new ideas so that the waste hierarchy more clearly governs the process. Besides minimisation and reuse, there should also be potential to increase materials recycling. The vision is that, in the future, there will not be any waste – it will instead be viewed as raw materials in different stages of refinement.
Anyone who can develop a good solution can contribute, not just for environmental benefits and increased municipal cost-effectiveness. In all probability, there will be major national and international demand for the answer because the challenge is similar in large parts of the world.
Samsa has specified a number of aims for the innovation procurement:
To use an innovation procurement to actively participate in the development of new or supplementary solutions to substantially increase the degree of reuse of materials currently deposited at traditional recycling centres
Stimulate industry through developing the role of the client
Increase awareness in individuals and companies of the waste hierarchy and the importance of moving up the hierarchy
That participating contestants further develop their own R&D work during the process
That winning companies develop an economically, socially and ecologically sustainable service or product which can be implemented in Samsa members’ organisations, and be distributed to others which have responsibility for recycling centres or similar sites today, both nationally and internationally
Seven contestants, with a total of 17 subcontractors, were chosen for a development phase. They were assigned mentors from Samsa and were given financial support to develop their ideas.
Their contributions all showed great potential to reduce the extraction of virgin raw materials and the influx of material into recycling centres, or redirect the flow so that it never becomes waste or improves materials recycling. Importantly, they also showed potential to operate a R&D process and develop a commercially viable product or service.
Only one contestant, Atkins, subsequently qualified for the pilot testing phase.
This entry stood out during evaluation as the most balanced contribution in relation to aspects such as impact on the challenge, innovation, its potential to be able to resolve new or expanded challenges or needs and commercial viability. But many of the seven contestants have already taken steps towards realising their projects in other contexts.
Atkins will implement a full-scale pilot test in close co-operation with Samsa this year. It is the intention of Samsa’s members to proceed with implementation of the pilot on commercial terms in the whole of the Samsa region.
Stefan Persson is project manager at Samsa
See ‘Also in’ box, top right, for a closer look at four of the ideas that made the shortlist