One year on — highlights of the SPIRIT programme

The SPIRIT programme to promote a sustainable future for the plastics industry has got off to an excellent start. During its first year, 11 different partnership projects have already been launched, and the ecosystem built around SPIRIT now includes more than 40 members from universities, research institutes and companies operating in various industries. SPIRIT Programme Manager Jari Lehtinen from Borealis walks us through the highlights of the past year. 

A rewarding year with a lot of learnings and interest in the programme 

Jari Lehtinen reflects on the past 12 months within the SPIRIT programme with enthusiasm. For Jari, the year has been positively busy and presented many valuable learnings for him and Borealis alike. New connections to universities and companies have emerged through Business Finland and events organised by the SPIRIT programme. All in all, the year has been extremely rewarding. The visibility gained by SPIRIT has been excellent, and Jari and the rest of the SPIRIT team have witnessed strong interest in the sustainability themes being tackled by the SPIRIT programme.

Jari says: “No company can perform this transformation alone. Networking and gaining contacts outside the company participating in this kind of ecosystem activities are extremely important and I am delighted to see that the demand and interest in the more sustainable future of plastics is so tangible. It is extremely interesting to collaborate with so many different actors and work on transforming the plastics industry.”

SPIRIT innovation projects challenge the current practices

There are already several large innovation projects established that are well aligned with the SPIRIT themes. Besides the transition from fossil into renewable raw materials, Jari reminds that we must challenge the recyclability of many current products. For example, multi-material products and composites. When developing new products, the focus is on improving material properties and product design to enhance recyclability. Further, recycling methods — mechanical, chemical and solvent-based recycling — are being studied.

Jari considers the 11 ongoing partnership projects including 40 partners within the SPIRIT programme a great achievement. The examples of the SPIRIT projects demonstrate the areas SPIRIT is tackling: For instance, the Forest CUMP research project uses CO2 emissions from industry to make climate-friendly plastics. The project, led by VTT, has a very innovative idea of capturing COand binding it e.g. into plastic pipes for the next 100 years – and yet to be recycled.

Important  work is also being done within the project led by Oy Plastex Ab, where the recycling of food-grade plastic products in being developed. This is an important step towards achieving a breakthrough in application-to-application recycling also for products requiring food contact approval.

The Zero ink project led by Cajo Technologies demonstrates another angle in the plastic value chain. In the project, machine-readable traceability markings that remain intact throughout the product’s life cycle also in challenging conditions such as recycling are being explored. The project aims to explore and evaluate the possibilities to use laser-based traceability markings in plastic products to avoid the use of glued-on labels, which may prevent recycling altogether.

Focus areas for the upcoming months 

According to Jari, one of the focus areas in the SPIRIT programme is to explore the feedstocks of the future. We need to make the best possible use of biomass from the current side streams and waste streams by looking at the possibilities to use biomass for chemicals instead of current incineration, for instance. Collection and sorting are also being explored among the SPIRIT partners to enhance the recycling.

Jari Lehtinen is delighted to see that the discussion on the ”bad plastics” is gradually turning into exploring on how we could make plastics work for us in a more sustainable way by e.g. using renewable raw materials and keeping carbon in the loop with efficient recycling. After all, the importance of plastics in our society is undeniable, for example in infrastructure and energy sector.

Project Manager Minna Lahtinen and a team of experts from Spinverse support the SPIRIT programme in driving the activities within the programme. Minna says: “It has been extremely interesting to be part of this vibrant programme, which brings together the actors in the plastics value chain to tackle the plastics industry transformation. The events and daily work we do within the programme are demonstrating the enthusiasm and interest to make a big change in this industry landscape.”


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