Finnish companies make a shift to the circular economy with innovative business models

The basic idea of sustainable circular economy business models is to produce not only economic value, but also environmental and social value. In the circular economy, they key objective is to keep the value of materials and products high for as long as possible. To be able to make a shift to the circular economy, it is essential to design the products in a more intelligent way by increasing their service life and changing their role in the system.

A shift from product-focused activities towards production of services supports the transition. When the product manufacturer maintains the ownership of a product, this will, at the same time, increase the motivation to lengthen the service life of products, and make the repair, remanufacturing and increasingly efficient use of resources more important than before.

In the CloseLoop project of the Strategic Research Council of the Academy of Finland, challenges associated with the development of new business models are systematically assessed, and new circular economy business models and concepts are brainstormed for Finnish companies. These concepts are developed and tested in collaboration with companies and stakeholders, including end-users and consumers.

Towards the circular economy with collaborative intelligent approaches

Digitalisation and the Internet of Things (IoT) offer new opportunities for the development and implementation of circular economy business models. They enable the gathering of information on products in a new way. This provides the manufacturer with increased knowledge on how the product is being used, when the product needs maintenance, and when the product is nearing the end of its service life. This makes it possible to develop new services and optimise the value of the product and its materials. On the other hand, this also increases the complexity of products and thus brings challenges to the preservation of the value of materials and components.

An individual company cannot solve the challenges related to such business operations. What is needed is comprehensive understanding of the viewpoints and needs of various parties. One must also examine what kind of value the business operations create for various stakeholders and what kind of opportunities it offers for creating added value. It is also important to consider what kind of value the new business activities may reduce from different stakeholders. On the basis of such examination, the parties involved can develop a model for the optimisation of common value creation.

The question of value can also be examined at many different levels, taking into account such aspects as economic, social and environmental value. When considering the value received by the end customer, it is also essential to understand the value as a ratio between sacrifices and benefits. The circular economy creates demand for new services and, consequently, for new operators. Such services include collection of products and logistics, the secondary markets of products and platforms that enable longer service life or higher utilisation rate for products.

Concrete business cases of the circular economy

What are business activities conducted in line with the principles of the circular economy like then? For example, business strategies in line with the circular economy can be classified as follows [i]:

Circular economy business strategies

Where can one get tips for business activities in line with the principles of the sustainable and circular economy?

In May 2017, the British Standards Institute published the standard BS 8001:2017 [ii], a new standard on the circular economy. It offers guidelines for different types of organizations on how to implement the principles of circular economy in their operations. The standard consists of two parts:

  1. Information on what the circular economy is all about and why it is advisable to transfer to the circular economy and a more sustainable operating model than before.
  2. Guidelines on how to implement operations in accordance with the principles of the circular economy. This is the key part of the standard, describing the principles of the circular economy, a flexible implementation model and guidelines supporting the implementation.

The collection of circular economy business cases that may inspire Finnish operators have been collected on the Sitra website. The aim is to gather 100 examples of Finnish forerunner companies engaged in the circular economy on this site by the end of 2017. The examples have been divided in accordance with the five circular economy business models.

Concrete international business cases can also be found on the website It brings together descriptions of sustainable business models of various types and examples on how such business models have been put to practice. The site presents eight ‘archetypes’ of sustainable business models and 100 real life business cases related to them.

New tools needed for the development of business activities

In the circular economy, business activities are more networked and systemic than before. Therefore, new tools are needed for both innovation and the development of existing business operations. The examination framework in the figure below emphasises these aspects, providing a holistic development tool for enterprises.

The transition towards business models in line with the circular economy requires examination at various levels. Changes in the business environment can be taken into account by assessing the ongoing development trends and drivers of change. Stakeholder participation in the examination work promotes generation of a shared view on the matter. At the level of business operations, the examination focuses on the key elements of the business model. The impact of operations is assessed from the viewpoints of requirements and the benefits achieved. The examination framework entails an idea of continuous assessment of business activities from the perspective of sustainability and the circular economy. Any changes need to be assessed, and the business model adjusted to the changed circumstances.

Examination framework

A systematic examination framework suited for
the development of business models [iii].

Teuvo Uusitalo VTT

Teuvo Uusitalo, Senior Scientist
Twitter: @TeuvoU

Maria Antikainen, Senior Scientist
Twitter: @MariaAntikainen

[i] Kraaijenhagen, C., van Oppen, C., Bocken, N., 2016. Circular Business. Collaborate and Circulate. Circular Collaboration.

[ii] BS 8001:2017. Framework for implementing the principles of the circular economy in organizations – Guide.

[iii] Antikainen, M., Valkokari, K., 2016. A Framework for Sustainable Circular Business Model Innovation. Technology Innovation Management Review 6.

Discovering the unused potential of secondary materials

From the viewpoint of circular economy, a large share of products would still need improvements, particularly as regards the choice of materials and the case of residues. We also need to change our way of thinking and we need more information in order to leverage the unused potential of secondary materials.

Trends affect the product cycle

In its report “Circular by Design”[1], the European Environment Agency[2] examined the impact of product trends on product cycles. The report highlights a positive trend, modular design, which extends the life cycle of products with the help of easy remanufacturing and repairability. Other trends that support circular economy include the services developed around products and shared use, such as making the use of products more efficient.

The development of circular economy is slowed down by complex product design and increased functionality. On the other hand, functional materials may make the use of materials more efficient, but, generally speaking, heterogeneous and complex materials are difficult to reuse and recycle, especially if actions after end-of-life are not designed properly. In other words, increasing complexity and functionality hamper the cycling of materials.

3-D printing, the Internet of Things and the development of markets for recycling are examples of “hot” developing trends, the impacts of which still remain unclear from the viewpoint of circular economy: each one of the above-mentioned trends contains both positive and challenging factors:

  • 3-D printing, or other additive manufacturing technologies, enable local production and improve material efficiency, but, on the other hand, high level of customisation may make the shared use of the products involved more difficult, and the use of many materials in products can negatively impact their recyclability.
  • The Internet of Things (IoT) enables such functions as product tracking and product information management, but may contribute to increasing product complexity and use of critical product materials.
  • The markets for recycling support business models related to recycling, but focusing all resources on recycling may reduce incentives for remanufacture and reuse of products and materials.

Let us not forget the secondary raw materials

In addition to the trends described above, it is good to recognise the potential of secondary materials.

There is no general definition for secondary raw materials, but they typically include waste materials (e.g. mine tailings), side streams (e.g. slag and ashes), processing residues, material removed during product life cycle, and the products and their materials that have reached the end of their life cycle.

Waste-free production is not always possible, since the current production processes generate waste or side products, and the product life cycle is not necessarily very long. The large volume of waste material generated beside our actual product may come as a surprise to many. An example: according to report “Growth within: a circular economy vision for a competitive Europe”[3], we recapture only 5 percent of the raw material value after the first use cycle. Are we really going to forget these lost materials? When discussing sustainability and climate, the focus is often on gaseous air emissions. But what about the solid “emissions”?

Should we change our conception of such “waste material” and, from this point forward, start calling it raw material or material instead of waste?

Should we raise the bar higher? In addition to using secondary materials for such purposes as soil improvement, road construction and filler material, we could aim for high-added value materials and products given an equal status alongside primary materials.

The idea about using and utilising waste materials for functional purposes in particular is good, but there are still major challenges in making that happen, and also concerns such as potential hazardous substances.

The utilisation of secondary materials requires openness, a change in our way of thinking, research and development, scientific competence and pilot production lines. And even more important, contributing factors include enthusiasm, commitment, securing safety sufficient competence and the ability to see the potential of new initiatives in terms of business development both within industry and research.

In addition to idea generation and technical challenges, we are also facing challenges related to ways of thinking, trust, openness, value chain co-operation, markets, legislation and taxation, and getting them solved depends on our common will to do so.

Material science in CloseLoop project

At VTT, we study and develop solutions for circular economy and design strategies for circular products in the CloseLoop[4] project of the Strategic Research Council of the Academy of Finland. We seek, for example, a high-temperature-resistant material, an electroconductive material and a porous ceramic material processed out of secondary raw materials. We aim at finding such solutions utilizing aluminium industry side streams, waste electrical and electronic equipment residues, and other waste materials. All the applications mentioned above and the materials used for them need to have specific technical properties and be functional. We will demonstrate how customised high-added value applications can be produced using secondary materials alongside primary materials, so that, in the future, we could regard these material flows as assets.

Päivi Kivikytö-Reponen VTT

Päivi Kivikytö-Reponen
Senior Scientist
Twitter: @PaiviKivikyto





The circular economy is a rough diamond with huge potential

Maria Antikainen VTT

The circular economy is a huge, rough diamond. It offers Finland an opportunity for economic growth and employment. We can switch to the circular economy via a series of innovation leaps. The key issue is a change in paradigm; doing things in an entirely new way rather than more efficiently.

The circular economy is a team game in which goals cannot be scored by going solo

A functioning circular economy is a complex and multi-dimensional system. The idea is to close the circle, but at ecosystem level rather than that of a single player. The circular economy is like a team game, where everyone has a certain role and the players need a keen eye for the game and great timing. This requires broad know-how and holistic management.

Examining systematic, holistic solutions helps us to see the wood for the trees. Circular economy solutions are complex wholes; goals are scored by the team, not individual players. On the other hand, if a player doesn’t hold up her end, this has an impact on the entire team’s performance. The forecasting, simulation and piloting of systematic impacts are important tools for understanding and visualising the consequences of solutions in the circular economy. Life cycle assessment is a good tool for evaluating environmental impacts. When analysing the impacts of solutions, the evaluation perspective must be broad and long, in order to identify solutions that are central in terms of their actual impact.

VTT offers expertise in various aspects of the circular economy diamond

In our publication, Policy Brief, we aim to serve companies and decision-makers by presenting the views, on the circular economy, of experts from a range of sectors. We understand that every circular economy solution has its own special characteristics and that various needs for change are highlighted. At VTT, we have presented the five issues that we consider to be central; these can be expressed in the form of questions:

  • To what extent are new technology solutions needed?
  • Do we need new business models?
  • What kind of change is needed in society’s structures?
  • What kind of collaboration development, or new partners, are needed?
  • To what extent is a breakthrough solution dependent on a certain mindset and behaviour?

circular economy en

The five examples of the circular economy we present in VTT’s Policy Brief illustrate how different perspectives are highlighted, how multi-disciplinary skills are needed to promote them, and what kinds of economic opportunities they open up. With the help of inspiring, concrete examples, we want to spur Finnish companies on to think about their own strengths and challenges with regard to circular economy solutions and to take bold steps towards the circular economy. VTT provides a wide range of expertise in all areas. We can build new circular economy solutions together with our customers.

Maria Antikainen, Senior Scientist
Twitter: @MariaAntikainen

Senior Scientist Maija Federley; Senior Principal Scientist Juha Honkatukia; Senior Scientist Päivi Kivikytö-Reponen; Research Team Leader Johanna Kohl; Senior Scientist Jutta Laine-Ylijoki; Principal Scientist Raija Lantto; Principal Scientist Tiina Pajula; Research Team Leader Anu Seisto

Are consumers prepared to give up owning stuff and begin renting instead?

In the pilot project Liiteri, we gathered information on consumer attitudes towards renting tools and cleaning equipment. The transfer from the sale of consumer products to the provision of services helps to keep products in circulation in accordance with the circular economy model and to minimise waste.

Have you ever wondered how much time and money you spend on selection, maintenance, repair and storage of, say, a power drill? When you compare your answer to the occasions when you actually need the machine, you may be surprised. Through rational comparison, renting a tool may turn out to be a surprisingly competitive alternative to owning it.

As consumers, our choices tend to be based much more on feelings than on rational decision-making. According to research, consumers lose much of their interest in a matter if adopting a new operating model requires a major shift in their way of thinking and operating.

VTT’s AARRE project was involved in a tool and cleaning equipment renting pilot called Liiteri. Consumers rented equipment from the Liiteri online service and picked them up 24/7 from a smart container located in the Teurastamo area in Helsinki whenever it was convenient for them.

Easy access and an opportunity for risk-free testing make services an attractive alternative

The pilot project gained a lot of media attention, and consumers were really enthusiastic about the service. Consumers were particularly interested in renting steam and pressure washers, window cleaning machines and drills.

The main benefits were related to saving the trouble of buying and maintaining equipment, a possibility to test and use higher-quality tools, and environmental advantages. Consumers also felt that the service allowed them to test equipment they would not buy otherwise. If used occasionally, consumers also considered renting more advantageous than buying.

Liiteri customer experience

Accessibility, price and slowness as service challenges

What created challenges in the renting model was the need to plan ahead, when you could not just grab a tool or a cleaning equipment from the closet, but you had to rent it and pick it up. This became particularly emphasised in case you needed the equipment urgently. It is also possible that the tool is not available when the consumer wants it, as happened in the pilot project with the most popular items. In some cases, consumers also considered the selection of the service laborious. When used often, many people considered the price of the rental service high compared to ownership. Consumers also considered picking up and returning the rented equipment difficult if the pick-up station was located far away. Heavy equipment requires using a car, which some considered a challenge. Even though consumers did appreciate the fact that by renting they had access to higher-quality equipment, they were wondering about the condition of the item when they get it. Could it happen that the machine does not work?

The challenges related to assessing the condition of equipment can be addressed with technological solutions that enable assessment of the condition. Consumers were also scared of breaking the equipment as well as of using strange appliances. On the other hand, consumers can also be provided guidance for using the machines in many ways, such as the machine itself providing user instructions.

People interested in more extensive service entities

Consumers were interested in larger service entities related to renovation, but equally also to other needs, such as repair services in a more extensive sense. Some of the consumers were also interested in buying the whole task as a service. Consumers also suggested expanding the product range to include tools and equipment owned by consumers themselves.

A large offering and tailored customer service play a key role when creating an ecosystem. Another matter of key importance is logistics, to which most of the problems associated with the service model were related. In addition to a functional and flexible logistics, other prerequisites of a successful consumer service are accessibility, ease of use and environmental friendliness. Different digital platforms, enabling a smooth renting process between companies and consumers or between consumers, also play a key role.

A shift to consumer services would significantly increase employment

Shifting to tool and equipment rental would have positive economic and employment impacts for Finland due to growth in the service sector. When we broaden the perspective to include other potential consumer products, we reach a totally new level.

For example, around EUR 2.5 billion is spent on cars each year, and over a billion is spent on other consumer durables. Most of these goods are imports. If even some of these expenses were transferred to the service business, it would have a major employment effect in Finland. Such services could also increase employment among those belonging to less employable groups and bring flexibility to working life. Here, the high price of work constitutes a challenge, rendering creation of profitable circular economy services more difficult. Different functional employment models could be adopted and the price of work could be lowered to support and promote creation of jobs within the circular economy.

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A pocket-sized circular economy – in search of an easy and efficient circular economy

The circular economy discussion often revolves around physical resources and material flows. However, the importance of the social and environmental perspectives must be understood, even if the economy and material flows naturally lie at the heart of the circular economy concept.

For the AARRE project, we drew up three complementary views of emerging circular economy in Finland. The focus was on stressing the importance of social sustainability as well as circular economy business models. What does an effortless, responsible, easy and efficient circular economy look like?[1]

The circular economy in Finland in 2030 – three scenarios

The efficient service experience scenario gives us a circular economy in which consumption habits favour access over ownership. Ease and sustainability are key themes in the everyday lives of both consumers and businesses. Together with the Internet of Things (IoT), digital platforms enable the provision, management and use of comprehensive service packages. New kinds of integrated service platforms serve as multi-purpose service maps, bringing services and needs together. ”The drop off and take away” service concept combines resource flows (services and materials) in and out of homes. ”A pocket-sized circular economy” concept, consumers can purchase most everyday services via a single online platform. One of these could be an Optimisation service, using a single application to monitor well-being and health (food-vending machine, safety bracelet), household energy consumption and air quality.

In the Factory of the future scenario, production processes are resource-efficient and symbiotic within or between different sectors. Processes are designed to ensure that the resulting material flows are used efficiently and very little or no waste occurs. New kinds of logistics services could be the key to a resource-efficient circular economy. Products are designed on the terms of the smart circular economy from the outset and the product lifecycle has markedly lengthened. To function sustainably in the global economy, private-sector strategic management must commit to the principles of a responsible circular economy. A strong focus has been placed on the social sustainability of business. However, more-sustainable consumption has become commonplace, led by major consumer product brands. Shifting to the circular economy has been made easy for consumers, with manufacturers ensuring the easy recycling, re-use, refurbishment and repair of products. The consumer can continue consuming with a clear conscience – circular economy certificates guarantee that products are produced, recycled and renewed sustainably, and increasingly contain renewable and recyclable materials.

In the new tribes scenario, the cooperative economy has become a supportive element of the circular economy. The key issues in this scenario are respect for social capital and neo-communality belonging to peer, sharing and consumer-producer communities. Communities can be physical or virtual tribes which bring people together to interact, while promoting the sharing and exchange of various types of ownership, resources, skills and knowledge. The basis of such activity is trust between citizens. The economy is being spurred on by renewed cooperative activities, so-called platform cooperatives, the sharing economy between consumers, and the firms and small businesses that provide such services. Business is agile, experimental, visual and audible, being based on the re-use, recycling, sharing and exchange of materials and products, in particular, and the supporting services. Business could generated by Cooperative home-based factories, which incentivise social activities and focus on small-scale, fair peer production (such as urban farming), services (care, transportation and repair services) and use.

How to promote transition to the circular economy?

What needs to change in consumers’ daily lives, so that purchasing services becomes more attractive than buying products? Services should generate more value for the customer than that provided by buying a product. Value can emerge around issues such as flexibility, better quality, ease and the experiential aspect. What if, in the future, the janitors and house managers of condominiums were the catalysts of residential circular economy services, bringing together consumer needs and service providers? Let’s turn digital janitors into a new circular economy concept.

Certification of circular economy products could be used to communicate the sustainability of services, and the repairability and recyclability of products. This would help consumers in their everyday choices. However, certification would not in itself guarantee a product’s or service’s compliance with sustainable development. Further reflection is needed on the compliance of the circular economy with sustainable development and on the role of certification.

On a small scale, many of the themes described within the scenarios already exit in modern Finland. What needs to change so that, for example, the cooperative circular economy becomes mainstream? Many current obstacles to change are related to expertise (lack of strategic leadership, product design, innovative public procurements, understanding of how to disengage the economy from resource use), attitudes (forced communality, the desire to ownship), legislation (taxation), profitability (producer responsibility) and sustainability (a fair cooperative economy).

Sustainable change is often based on everyday insights

Even small insights could make the circular economy smoother and more efficient on an everyday level and put change into motion. The scenarios describe such changes. The circular economy should not be viewed solely from the economic perspective. It is a multi-faceted diamond, which combines economic, social and environmental aspects. After a qualitative review of the scenarios, a more detailed review of the circular economy’s macroeconomic impact on employment, regional policy and taxation would be required, alongside a deeper understanding of its social impacts.

Henna Sundqvist-Andberg VTT

Henna Sundqvist-Andberg, Senior Scientist

Johanna Kohl VTT

Johanna Kohl, Principal Scientist
Twitter: @KohlJohanna1

Follow the AARRE project on Twitter: @AarreResearch

[1] See also Terhi-Anna Wilska’s recent column on responsible consumption.

Is the circular economy just a fad or future necessity?

We live an era of different economies: bioeconomy, platform economy, digital economy – and circular economy. Are these only fads or the new reality that will change the way we consume and live our lives?

The circular economy is not a new phenomenon. Throughout history, it has been the way of acting and managing in times of scarcity. Our grandparents and great grandparents lived sparingly and put everything to good use down to the very last thread. People still do this in the developing countries and under severe or exceptional circumstances, such as during war.

The circular economy has become a topical issue again, since the increasingly limited global raw materials, food, and water and energy resources are not sufficient to cover the needs of the still growing population. We must learn to think differently about ownership and consumption.

Technology accelerates the circular economy and business activities

In addition to being a necessity, the circular economy is a great opportunity to create sustainable demand and, consequently, new kind of business activities. Once a product has reached the end of its life cycle, technology makes it possible to recover its raw materials and components, and use them for new purposes. Nothing goes to waste.

Efficient use of resources calls for new operators, distribution networks and systems to make sure that the right shipments are in the right place at the right time. In the textile industry, there are good examples of how used clothes can be recycled into secondary textile fibres for the needs of clothing and technical textile industries. For example, the awarded Ioncell-FTM method, for which VTT developed a pretreatment technique for cotton waste, dissolves cotton waste for reuse without any toxic agents. 3D printing, on the other hand, allows resource-wise use of materials in the manufacturing industry and, best of all, recycling of recovered materials. All this, however, requires that people everywhere in the business environment adopt new ways of thinking.

Current modes of operation will not bring success

Research and development play the key role in ensuring that the circular economy functions efficiently. We need radical innovations that promote resource-wise and sustainable economic growth.

The circular economy is not only a way of thinking, but it is also a business activity that creates value, jobs and tax revenues. We need good ideas, broad-mindedness and bold trials to transform the ideas into business activities. How to minimise the amount of waste and reuse the remaining waste? What used to be regarded as the final point of the process, can nowadays generate new business, of which the side streams from food production serve as a good example. These include the manufacturing method patented by VTT, where the berry press residues from juice processing industry are used as an ingredient for augmenting the fibre content in muffins. Innovations like these are not generated from nothing, but they need to be founded on research and developed further to succeed.

Feathers to the catwalk

Innovations do not happen either if there are no individuals who dare to think big or in novel ways. A good example of this are feathers – a small, light material lending itself to many purposes. After having provided warmth and protection for their owner, feathers can be transformed into protein-rich animal feed or used in packaging materials.

We are familiar with feather-filled pillows, but how could, say, the textile industry make better use of feathers as raw material. When will we see feathers on the catwalks at fashion shows?

Growth for Finland from circular economy

What lies at the core of the circular economy are services: buying and owning are transforming into lending and shared use. This has been the reality in, for example, the housing market for a long time, and now similar way of thinking is also expanding from tools (see the pilot project Liiteri) to vehicles.

Services already account for more than two thirds of the value of Finland’s gross domestic product. When the opportunities offered by the circular economy are understood everywhere in society, this share will grow even more – and the burden on the environment will reduce.

New services will boost growth and employment in Finland. On one hand, digitalisation replaces jobs, but, on the other hand, its use in the circular economy will provide growth opportunities for enterprises: the whole manufacturing and product life cycle needs new solutions that the Internet of Things applications can offer.

Finland is well equipped to become a pioneer in the circular economy. The key issue is the boldness to think things anew. Do I really need a car of my own? Are there any real obstacles for renting a car whenever I need one? We must call our conventional ways of thinking into question.

The way of thinking and acting the former generations used to practice will transform into business activity that helps to build the welfare society. Finland has a highly-educated population, plenty of natural resources, and R&D activity, so this small country can develop global solutions that really save resources and enhance well-being.

Anne-Christine Ritskchoff VTT

Anne-Christine Ritschkoff
Executive Vice President, Strategic Research
Twitter: @AnneRitschkoff 

Hundreds of millions in savings by utilising waste protein

We live in a world whose population; food, water and energy consumption; industrial production; pollution and waste are increasing due to human activity, while natural resources diminish. We Finns participate in this by adding 400 million kilogrammes a year to the food waste mountain. A tenth of such waste is made up of vital proteins. Protein is precisely the nutrient whose scarcity people will suffer from first, if there is not enough food for everyone.

The current volume of waste would meet the protein needs of the entire Finnish population, plus the protein supplement needs of Finland’s livestock, each and every day, if recovered before it entered the waste bin.

Dumped food is a sheer waste of dwindling natural resources and money. It’s Iike throwing hundreds of millions of euros down the drain.

The circular economy needs solutions for minimising food waste and harnessing its value

Waste is a substance, material or item that has come to the end of its lifecycle and is disposed of. Such a concept is alien to the circular economy. Instead, there are only raw materials, which a huge variety of processes continuously transform into products. There are no end points, combustion plants or landfills in the circular economy. This is a highly ambitious goal and every effort is being made to achieve it. We need to, since the waste mountain is growing but natural resources are dwindling faster than they can be renewed.

When will rapeseed and mash proteins appear on the shop shelves?

Side stream and waste protein is generated by agriculture, the food industry, retail and consumption. Industrial sidestream protein is in bran, brewers’ spent grain, oilseed presscake and slughterhouse side-streams. Most of this could be processed into high-quality, delicious foodstuffs, before ending up as feed – or fertilisers generated in compost or biogas plants.

Sidestream protein winds up smoothly on our plates in baked goods and protein-rich dairy products, or as a treat for pigs in the form of rapeseed press cake pellets or brewers’ spent grain. So far, so good.

Innovative, sustainable, protein enrichment technologies and the related skills are in demand in industry. Separating protein from other sidestream components is not enough. Skills in processing vegetable proteins into a form with an attractive texture and taste are particularly needed. Proof of such skills has already appeared on the shop shelves: You can now fill your shopping trolley with vegetarian ‘pulled’ and processed products made from first-class ingredients – oats and horse beans. But ‘rapeseed’ and ‘mash’ protein products have yet to appear.

The progress of waste protein to wiser end-use will get a little harder from now on – or will it?

We have now reached the stage in the food chain where some basic and processed ingredients have been blended together to form food or even meals. We are shopping for groceries.

The retail sector wastes 70 million tonnes of food per year, around ten percent of which is protein. The amount of waste determines whether a shop makes a profit or loss. So waste must either be reduced or made profitable. Reducing waste would be the easiest way to do this, and the retail sector has taken this path in compliance with the waste hierarchy principle of the circular economy: first minimise and only then recycle. Food waste can be halved and the financial results improved when retail waste management programmes dovetail with other systems and logistics.

Viable solutions exist for the effective minimisation of waste, but it will never be completely eliminated. So what will happen to foodstuffs still on the shelf, but with today as their ‘best before’ date? Recycling and use, right?  This is where the circular economy begins. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

Most food waste from shops ends up in landfill rather than with those who need it. This is not due to an uncaring, callous or cruel attitude but legislation, which requires that food safety be ensured. The law does not permit food beyond its ‘best before’ date to be given to those in need, no matter how high-quality and edible such food may be. So some healthy common sense and reasoning are needed. A law is entering preparation to enable and require the distribution of food loss. Until the law is enacted, the valuable protein in food loss will reach the end of its lifecycle in supermarket skips.

We throw out 150 million kilogrammes of food each year

The bottomless pit of waste protein lies in households in particular, as well as in communities such as schools and kindergartens. We consumers throw 150 million kilogrammes of food into the bin or biowaste each year.

We Finns are good at recycling paper, cardboard, glass, metal, plastic and clothes. We can only recycle food by eating it, or throwing leftovers into our garden compost or bio-waste containers to become fertiliser. This is just fine, but a much more sustainable and economical solution would be to minimise leftovers, just as shops do in relation to loss and waste. It’s very simple and highly profitable: Eat all of the food you buy and cook.

So let’s go through it one more time: Let’s process sidestream proteins from production and industry into new products, utilise retail food loss efficiently, distribute retail food loss to those in need, make compost from leftovers and, again, eat whatever we buy. That is how we can be save the environment and half a billion euros each year.

Raija Lantto VTT

Raija Lantto is a Principal Scientist in VTT’s Biotechnology and Food Research.