The importance of good waste management is no secret, but how to do it can sometimes allude us. This is where the city of Tampere comes in. So, if you’re lacking innovative ideas and aren’t sure where to jump in, get ready to be inspired by the waste to resources and circular solutions from Tampere.
Answering the Call
“We are currently facing a global waste crisis. Unregulated and informal waste management is a burden on the planet.”ISWA
Predictions suggest that waste will rise from 2.01 billion metric tonnes (2016) to 2.59 billion metric tonnes by 2030 and that, currently, one third of this is still sent to dumpsites, it is clear that new waste and resources solutions are needed. Tampere’s work could be a critical step towards a more circular, safe and sustainable way of dealing with waste and developing resources. After all, proper waste management could reduce GHG emissions by 15-20%.
In an effort to meet the Finnish government’s commitment to move away from a linear model of consumption, Tampere has managed to combine circular economy, waste disposal and resource management to find a solution that benefits, well, basically everybody.
In Finland, the separation of waste is legislated in national law, but Tampere ambitiously decided they wanted to take this one step further. The municipal governments of Tampere, the third most populated city in Finland, and the city of Nokia, developed a partnership with Tampere Regional Solid Waste Management, and established three principal aims:
- Develop the management of the whole value chain.
- Focus on the recovery of resources.
- Reduce the costs to customers as much as possible.
ECO3 – Not the Name of a Robot
It just so happened that when Tampere Regional Solid Waste Management invested in a new digestion plant to replace composting, their opposite number, Nokia Water, was planning a new wastewater treatment plant. What a happy coincidence! When they realised their shared interest in constructing on the same site, the idea of a bio- and circular economy business park, ECO3, was born.
“After all, one ECO3 company’s by-product is another’s raw material”.ECO3
On the site at ECO3, they planned to essentially turn waste into resources and ideas into products or exports, all while keeping waste management costs to a minimum. This would be done starting with the citizens and companies and encouraging waste separation, followed by effective waste collection and transportation. By working together with a variety of companies at ECO3 and partnerships forming between companies, “one organisation’s waste could be turned into another’s commodity.”
Realising the Dream
Verte, a platform company of ECO3 owned by the city of Nokia, developed the 600-hectare site. Business Tampere also works as the region’s economic development agency to encourage companies to move to the ECO3 area and link their operations into the network.
Work related to nutrients, wood and energy are leading the way at Tampere’s eco-business site. An anaerobic digestion plant with two different material lines makes use of wastewater sludge and bio-waste from one business or venture and repurposes or transforms them into useful resources for another customer. Tampere Regional Solid Waste Management Ltd. is currently handling the biowaste of 17 municipalities as well as the city of Nokia’s waste.
Wastewater sludge, biowaste and residuals most often come from the food, agriculture and forestry industries and are handled separately. This means biowaste can be further refined into organic fertilizer with high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous. But that’s not all, sewage water and biowaste are also being turned into:
- material for green infrastructure
- biological nutrients for food production
- biogas for vehicles and CHP production
- CO2 for agricultural production in greenhouses
- raw materials for earthworks
Not only do the companies benefit from the circular economy idea and the site facilities at ECO3, but the location is also ideal. Situated in the centre of Tampere’s main roads means that waste collected from surrounding areas can easily be transported for processing. No time, energy or money is wasted on unnecessary travel.
“Finland produces such a wide range of wood products that there is much to be gained from understanding how to make circular use of all parts of the material flow.”Euro Cities
As well as site development, Verte also helped the project to find appropriate partners. This collaboration meant that in just over a year, Ecomation had set up a plant for processing decommissioned car tyres and plastic waste. Using their latest pyrolysis technique, they put these materials to good use once again by creating oil, carbon and gas without producing emissions.
“We’re looking for companies that could benefit each other in related industrial activities.”ECO3
Originally, Ecolan invested €8 million into a production plant on the site, and they have since added three extensions. This investment allows them to refine side streams into products for forestry, agriculture, groundworks, and environmental management. For instance, they produce organic fertilizer from side streams from the agricultural industry or utilise industrial side streams (e.g., ash from power plants) to make lightweight rock materials and binding agents.
Ecolan Ltd has proved to be very innovative and are constantly developing new products by making use of the circular economy onsite at ECO3. Ecolan Infra TR lightweight rock material, for instance, primarily uses fly ash and bottom ash to make an end product that can be used to provide frost insulation or can replace the layer of natural sand needed to build roads.
In order to make their production as cost-efficient and as green as possible, Ecolan works closely with its partners in the circular economy at ECO3 to ensure that potential side streams and users of finished materials are as nearby as possible.
ECO3 is also working hard to achieve the versatile production of renewable energy and biofuels. They already have biogas production plants and are running pilots and demonstrations for the industrial processing of biologically based fuels made from waste and by-products. This not only makes use of unavoidable waste that must be disposed of but also generates an essential resource. Estimates show that the amount of methane generated by the facility is the equivalent to 2.5 million litres of transport fuels per year.
A significant proportion of the renewable energy produced is generated from wood-based material and by-products. The city of Nokia is utilising renewable wood material and ash by-products from power plant operations to generate heat.
ECO3 has a primary biomass terminal which offers a central area for lumber-based material distribution and processing that is customised to the energy industry’s requirements. One forest management association that invested in the biomass terminal acts as both a wood producer at the start of the value chain and an ash user at the end of the chain. It really is going full circle!
Financing: Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
Money is always one of the most significant questions when it comes to making a project viable. In this case, the key was cooperation. The overall project is run by a four-headed team of two city governments, Tampere’s Solid Waste Management and the property development company Verte Oy. Now, the project now involves over 20 companies, authorities, research institutions and public corporations. And it seems to be paying off, as between 2016 and 2019, anchor companies agreed on roughly €60 million in investments…they truly did hit the ground running!
Due to the partnerships with a variety of stakeholders, no municipal taxation was needed to fund the new treatment plant. In essence, it was financed by the customers. i.e., the waste-makers.
Reaping the Rewards
If you scroll back up and take a look at the 3 aims set out by the project, we think it’s fair to say they have ticked all the boxes. They have created a whole value chain that is no longer linear, while utilising and reviving a huge proportion of waste and by-products in one innovative circular ecosystem.
We all love to save and this project’s success is definitely reflected in the stakeholder’s and the public’s wallets: through their work, they have managed to achieve the lowest waste management prices in Finland. Not burning a hole in their pockets nor burning the planet; it’s a win-win.
What Does the Future Hold?
One of the long-term goals of ECO3 is to develop service models for the management of municipal waste by cooperating with national and international partners using smart technology. By using new digital solutions, they hope to make technical cycles as efficient as possible, thus further reducing costs and emissions.
But for now, ECO3 is helping to restructure an industry that is vital in the fight to protect our planet for future generations and for improving current living standards by properly, responsibly dealing with waste.
- Creating a circular economy at a city level is possible.
- Collaboration is key, whether in terms of financing or in creating a circular economy.
- Investing in sustainability pays off.
- Solutions do not have to involve raising taxes or costing citizens a fortune – never a popular suggestion anyway.
- New is not always better – resources and even waste that you may not need, could be gold dust to someone else.
- Waste is not useless, all it takes is a little imagination and teamwork.
So, what’s holding you back? Tampere is proof that cost-efficient, sustainable waste management combined with a circular economy is possible and, it seems, with the right stakeholders onboard is actually pretty popular.