The future is circular

Why is so much plastic waste incinerated? How can you limit your CO2 emissions by separately sorting EPS and what are the challenges and benefits of switching from linear waste management flows to circular ones? We had a chat with Henrik Ekvall, Managing Director of BEWI Circular, to get the answers to these and a couple more questions.
Interview with Henrik Ekvall - Managing Director BEWI Circular

It can be recycled over and over again.

EPS is the foundation of our business. It’s a plastic that has many uses due to its properties and it’s in active service in many parts of society. It insulates houses, protects products during transport, and keeps food fresh, to name a few of its uses. And it can be recycled over and over again.

We all need to change our ways to halt climate change. The biggest shift for industries is to leave linear processes in favor of circular ones. And there is huge potential in this, as much waste that can be recycled is incinerated for energy production. At BEWI, we work with several materials and we have set ambitious goals for their recycling and reusing.

Henrik keeps EPS away from fire.

Henrik Ekvall is the Managing Director of our Circular division, and we sat down with him for a chat about EPS, circularity and the importance of collaboration.

Hello Henrik! What is BEWI Circular and what do you do?

– BEWI Circular is waste management made easy. We unite manufacturing with recycling by collecting EPS waste from our customers and then we recycle it in order to make new, sustainable products. The benefits for our customers include to leave the waste management in our hands and lower CO2 emissions in one blow.

Why is it important for the planet to recycle EPS?

– It’s important to recycle all plastics, mainly because it’s possible to do so. Many plastics can also be recycled several times, which make them sustainable. And recycling leads to decreased production of virgin material, which is a process that requires finite resources. The bottom line is really that recycling is necessary in order to lower CO2 emissions, there’s no way around it. It’s also important to mention that plastic has become a problem in many parts of the world due to failure to collect and recycle it. We want make that problem a possibility.

Do you see any obstacles on the road to increased EPS recycling?

– Yes and the main issue here is to collect the waste. Today, EPS is rarely sorted separately. Instead it’s dumped together with other combustible materials and incinerated. This is a waste and a blow to the climate fight, as it releases CO2. What we need is increased sorting of all kinds of plastics in order to be able to recycle them. But the sunny part of this is that there aren’t any complicated issues that hinder this development. And we’re working on speeding up this change.

What kind of EPS products are the easiest to collect and recycle?

– Large flows of EPS are the easiest and fish boxes made of EPS is a great example. We work with companies who handle large quantities of fish and set up tailored solutions for them. This often includes installing a compactor at the customer’s site and that we collect the waste material while delivering new fish boxes just-in-time. We’re flexible and always aim to find the optimal solution for our customers. Another example is appliances, for which EPS is used for protection during transport.

And which ones pose a bigger challenge?

– The biggest challenge is when the EPS is contaminated with for example glue or paint or when it isn’t sorted separately. In the construction industry there is great potential to sort EPS waste separately and we’re eager to help companies shift to a circular approach to their EPS waste management. We have the solutions ready to go and will as I mentioned tailor them to fit each individual company. We want to make the change easy for everyone.

What about recycling centers?

– I’m glad you bring this up because this is another area with huge potential. Today, EPS is often thrown in containers together with other combustible materials. We’d like to see separate containers for EPS and we’d be happy to help set up such a flow for municipalities. EPS is a great material to sort separately, as it’s voluminous and takes up lots of space. By sorting it separately, it can be compacted on-site and lots of space and transport costs would be saved, which in turn would lead to savings in CO2-emissions.

How does the process for EPS recycling work?

– The EPS waste that we collect is first compacted, crushed and pressed together. This means that we decrease its volume significantly and as EPS consists of 98 % air, we can decrease the material’s volume 50 to 1. This material is a resource for our production and is transported to granulation, melted and filtered to end up as PS-pellets (polystyrene pellets). These can in turn be used to produce EPS or XPS products such as insulation boards or packaging for appliances. The shortest flow is to use EPS waste to make new EPS. The steps in that process is to simply crush the EPS waste and then use it to make new EPS. We always aim for the shortest recycling process as it’s the most sustainable.

What’s the most important change that needs to happen in order for more EPS and plastic to be recycled?

– Collaboration. Everyone must realise that circularity demands collaboration. We all need each other to meet the challenge of climate change and the targets necessary to halt it. Every resource needs to be reused and recycled and often that means that a product from one industry becomes waste and eventually a valuable resource in a completely different area. We need to find more such flows. We also need to open up and talk to each other to find solutions, partially because of the challenge we’re facing but also because there’s efficiency and money to save and make here.

One last thing, BEWI often mentions that you’re leading the change to a circular economy in your industry, what do you mean by that?

– We’re investing large amounts in circular flows. We see no other way and figure that someone has to lead the way for others to follow. The obstacles I have mentioned need to be overcome and there simply isn’t time to wait around for someone else to do it. BEWI was founded as a family company and the entrepreneurial can-do spirit is intact. It drives us on and gives us the energy and will to accomplish what we believe in. And that is to take the lead in this inevitable change, while we hope more will follow. They have to, to be honest, because this concerns us all. We’re in the same boat, whether we like it or not, and there really is no other reasonable option than to row together in the same direction. We’re eager and ready to work with anyone who wants to make the change to a circular economy.

Questions or want more information?

Henrik Ekvallavatar

Henrik Ekvall

Managing Director Circular