Managing Household Plastic Waste: Evaluation of the EU commission’s strategy from the perspective of Swedish municipalities

University essay from Lunds universitet/Miljövetenskaplig utbildning

Abstract: In January of 2018, the EU commission presented a new strategy on how the EU will handle plastics in a circular economy. The strategy raises many of the issues the EU face with plastics and plastic waste today, presents several goals for 2030 in this field - such as a >50% recycling rate of plastic waste - and recommends measures the nations could take to improve their management of plastics and plastic waste. Sweden has for a long time worked closely with the sorting, collecting and recycling of household plastic waste, and is by 2016 already reaching recycling rates of 42.2%, in big part thanks to Sweden’s legally demanded extended producer responsibility. The question arose of how much the EU commission’s strategy will affect Sweden in its work of sorting and collecting plastic waste. This study approaches this question by attempting to answer instead what the Swedish municipalities have already accomplished without the help of the EU commission’s strategy, what actions are being planned in future following this strategy, as well as what other measures had been taken previously when dealing with demands of sorted household waste to see if there are any methods that would be applicable to plastic waste. Additionally, looking beyond what the EU commission’s plastic strategy incorporates, it was also of interest to investigate which issues the Swedish municipalities see with bioplastics, as these are expected to take a bigger share of the plastic market in the coming future. Semi-structured qualitative interviews and questionnaires were performed and answered by 4 of Scania’s municipalities, and 8 of its waste management companies in order to answer these questions. From the results, Sweden has come far with its sorting and collecting of plastic waste due to implementing convenient measures for its citizen, such as access to household-proximate sorting, and four-compartment bins to single family households where they may sort their waste easily. An underlying motto “easy to do right” have been guiding the household waste sorting and collection thus far, together with information distribution to the citizens. The EU commission’s strategy was not deemed to have had an impact on the municipalities’ work regarding waste sorting and collecting so far, and was not expected to have a great impact in the future, primarily due to it not presenting any revolutionary demands or measures. The issues with bioplastics were related to biodegradable plastics, as these may contaminate other plastics in recycling due to being difficult to recycle. However, they were also deemed inappropriate to dispose of in nature or among organic waste, as it does not 6 degrade in these environments either, meaning that there is no good way to dispose of these plastics other than energy recovery. In the future, this issue may be solved by modern second-hand sorting of plastics in sorting facilities, together with second-hand recycling of residual waste, something which is currently not being done in Sweden.

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