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Recycling potential of post-consumer plastic packaging waste in Finland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)52-61
JournalWaste Management
Early online date31 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


Recycling of plastics is urged by the need for closing material loops to maintain our natural resources when striving towards circular economy, but also by the concern raced by observations of plastic scrap in oceans and lakes. Packaging industry is the sector using the largest share of plastics, hence packaging dominates in the plastic waste flow. The aim of this paper was to sum up the recycling potential of post-consumer plastic packaging waste in Finland. This potential was evaluated based on the quantity, composition and mechanical quality of the plastic packaging waste generated by consumers and collected as a source-separated fraction, within the mixed municipal solid waste (MSW) or within energy waste.

Based on the assessment 86,000–117,000 tons (18 kg/person/a) of post-consumer plastic packaging waste was generated in Finland in 2014. The majority, 84% of the waste was in the mixed MSW flow in 2014. Due to the launching of new sorting facilities and separate collections for post-consumer plastic packaging in 2016, almost 40% of the post-consumer plastic packaging could become available for recycling. However, a 50% recycling rate for post-consumer plastic packaging (other than PET bottles) would be needed to increase the overall MSW recycling rate from the current 41% by around two percentage points.

The share of monotype plastics in the overall MSW plastics fraction was 80%, hence by volume the recycling potential of MSW plastics is high. Polypropylene (PP) and low density polyethylene (LDPE) were the most common plastic types present in mixed MSW, followed by polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polystyrene (PS) and high density polyethylene (HDPE). If all the Finnish plastic packaging waste collected through the three collection types would be available for recycling, then 19,000–25,000 tons of recycled PP and 6000–8000 tons of recycled HDPE would be available on the local market. However, this assessment includes uncertainties due to performing the composition study only on mixed MSW plastic fraction. In order to obtain more precise figures of the recycling potential of post-consumer plastic packaging, more studies should be performed on both the quantities and the qualities of plastic wastes.

The mechanical and rheological test results indicated that even plastic wastes originating from the mixed MSW, can be useful raw materials. Recycled HDPE showed a smaller decline in the mechanical properties than recycled PP. The origin and processing method of waste plastic seemed to have less effect on the mechanical quality than the type of plastic. The applicability of a plastic waste for a product needs to be assessed case by case, due to product specific quality requirements. In addition to mechanical properties, the chemical composition of plastic wastes is of major importance, in order to be able to restrict hazardous substances from being circulated undesirably.

In addition to quantity and quality of plastic wastes, the sustainability of the whole recycling chain needs to be assessed prior to launching operations so that the chain can be optimized to generate both environmental and economic benefits to society and operators.

Publication forum classification

Field of science, Statistics Finland