Volume of landfill waste has dropped dramatically
The forest industry is actively developing further uses for its by-products and waste. The volume of landfill waste has been cut to a tenth of levels seen in the early 90s. During this time period, pulp and paper production has increased. The amount of landfill waste per production volumes has decreased more than 90 per cent since 90’s.
The reduction in landfill waste was achieved largely before economic instruments such as the waste tax were implemented. Since the beginning of 2011, when the waste tax was extended to industrial landfill sites, the cost of both disposing of waste to landfill and its utilisation has increased.
Waste utilisation criteria must be improved
A more effective way to reduce forest industry landfill waste than the waste tax would be to improve waste utilisation opportunities. Legislation that restricts waste utilisation must be developed so that waste that could be utilised does not need to be landfilled. Waste utilisation both saves natural resources and reduces the amount of landfilled waste.
The biggest obstacles to the utilisation of production side streams have been the slowness of permit procedures and the classification of side streams as waste. The current Waste Act already allows for the productisation of side streams as by-products. Industrial by-products no longer need the permit procedure that slows down waste utilisation. By-products are recognized as product and for example REACH obligations concerns also by-product as well as products. However, further clarity is needed in the definition of the Waste Act’s status for by-products.
Ash utilisation must be promoted
The targets set for renewable energy will increase the amount of resulting ash in future. At the same time, we must ensure that legislation does not needlessly limit the utilisation of ash, for example, as fertiliser or in construction.
In 2011, changes were made to the national legislation that limited ash fertilisation so that the nutrients contained in ash can be better recycled back into forests as fertiliser. The EU fertiliser regulation currently being prepared brings new kinds of challenges. Forest industry by-products, such as ashes, fibre sludge, and limes, which have for years been successfully used as ingredients in fertilisers and soil improvers in Finland, must also be covered in the EU’s fertiliser regulation.
Research into new treatment and utilisation methods
The forest industry is conducting broad research into boosting the utilisation and productisation of waste and by-products. Topics of research include, for example, the use of ash in the construction industry and in earthworks as well as the large-scale use of sludge as an ingredient in fertiliser products.
To reduce landfilling, it is crucial that we investigate new ways to process industrial side streams for secondary raw materials and that we make sure that legislation allows their utilisation. One important element is good co-operation between various players in the waste utilisation chain. Industrial symbioses can help further process forest industry by-products and create profitable business.
In December 2015, the European Commission published its circular economy strategy that puts forward changes to six waste sector directives. Of these six, the Waste Framework Directive, the Package and Packaging Waste Directive and the Landfill Directive are strongly linked to the Finnish forest industry. The handling of the directives will likely continue far into 2017 in the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. The idea that industrial waste should have recycling targets like municipal waste lives strong in the Parliament. There is a risk that recycling targets would direct industrial side streams into waste handling and away from industrial symbioses and innovative processing options. At the same time, we would fail to benefit from several highly-processed products and the opportunity to realise the circular economy in practice.