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Shipping and ports become central in a circular economy

08 November 2023

If Sweden is to become one of the world's first fossil-free welfare countries, a transition to a fossil-free transport system and to a circular economy is required. According to a new report funded by the Swedish Transport Administration, shipping and ports can have central roles in the system.

“Sweden is good at energy recycling. We have a lot of heating plants and even import garbage, mainly from Norway and Great Britain, which we incinerate. But to switch to a circular economy, we need to recycle materials much more, which will require more transport. Some materials will even have to be transported abroad”, says Linea Kjellsdotter Ivert, research leader at VTI, who led the project The role of Swedish ports in a circular economy (SHREK).

So how can shipping be used to an increased extent to transport circular products and materials? And how can the port create added value in the development of circular logistics solutions? It was with those questions that Linea Kjellsdotter Ivert and her colleagues entered the 2.5-year research project.

“Materials to be reused or material recycled do not have as high a value as new products and virgin materials. This means that transport costs must be kept down so that it becomes economically possible for the material to circulate instead of being energy recycled (burned).”

That shipping was suitable for circular transport flows was quite obvious from the start.

“Waste products typically do not need to be shipped quickly and do not have the same just-in-time requirements as many other products. In addition, shipping is an energy-efficient mode of transport.”

However, it was not obvious exactly which circular products are suitable to transport by sea. Therefore, waste statistics were compiled and then suitable products and materials were selected with the help of waste contractors and ports that participated in the project.

“We produced a list that shows that there is quite a lot of material that has the potential. Above all, construction and demolition waste, which after mining waste is the largest waste generator today with a recycling rate of just over 50 percent. Among this waste, wood, plastic, mineral waste, earth masses, dredged masses and glass are particularly interesting for shipping. Tires, sorted and recycled textiles, glass, waste oil and fly ash also made the list.”

For large masses of soil and dredging, entire ships can be used, but what do you do with waste that does not have such large volumes – for example, plastic and tires that are recycled above all abroad?

“You easily think that it has to be about large volumes for shipping to be suitable, but that is not the case. Container ships open for quite a few materials. It is nothing new for the shipping world, but perhaps for waste operators. Here, ports can take on a role as knowledge brokers, a bridge between goods owners and shipping.”

To see how the port can be used in the circular system, case studies have been done with the four ports that were part of SHREK – Trelleborg, Oslo, Port of Halland and Norrköping.

“The port can, for example, add great value to circular products through storage. In Oslo, for example, there is an exciting example where you not only want to store lots, but also look at the possibilities of refining them. The port creates value through many other things too – consolidation, unloading and loading of containers and not least by being a logistics node that offers transshipment opportunities between different types of traffic.”

“What role a port will have in the circular system largely depends on what type of port it is and where in the logistics chain it enters. Trelleborg and Oslo, for example, both deal with mass handling, but do so in different ways. Trelleborg is a large RoRo port where bulk handling is a small segment that involves providing a berth. In Oslo port, on the contrary, it is such a large part of the business that there is an opportunity to make a business out of it”, says Linea Kjellsdotter Ivert.

The report The role of Swedish ports in a circular economy was written by:
Linea Kjellsdotter Ivert, VTI, Vendela Santen, RISE, Axel Merkel, VTI and Per Wide, RISE

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