How can public procurements support circulation of plastics?

13.9.2023 9.12
An aerial view of a city at sunrise.

A recent analysis of Espoo’s purchasing data for 2022 helps municipalities develop their sustainable procurements. Public sector procurements can be used to show the market what kind of products and services we want for society. Espoo is committed to developing the circular economy and the circulation of plastics, and this aspect is increasingly taken into account in our procurements. With plastic everywhere and a lot of work in our hands, where would be the most effective place to start?

Complex plastics

Procurements made by the state, cities and other public organisations hold a lot of sway over the market. The value of public procurements(external link) is approximately EUR 45 billion per year. In 2022, the City of Espoo made procurements worth more than EUR 1.2 billion, including the operations that have now become the responsibility of the wellbeing services county.

Whan plastic is recycled, it provides material for new products.

As part of the Closed Plastic Circle – from Pilots to Practice project, we create procurement criteria that support the circulation of plastics. “There is no point in trying to give up plastic completely, because thanks to its lightness, durability and recyclability, plastic is in many situations the most sustainable choice. However, the manufacture of plastic products produces greenhouse gas emissions, and when it ends up in nature, it causes harm for centuries,” says Project Coordinator Outi Jounila.

Sustainable plastic procurements are primarily about the product's intended use, life cycle, material recycling and responsible production chains. What role does plastic play in the city's procurements? Where should the development of procurement criteria start?

Effectiveness analysis of Espoo's purchasing data

In order to develop the sustainability of procurements, we needed a better understanding of our own procurements as a whole. “We wanted to understand better where in our procurements plastic has a significant role and in which product categories we have the most power to increase the recycling rate of plastic,” says Katihanna Ilomäki, Special Advisor at the Espoo Procurement Centre: ”Our CityLoops project partner’s expert for plastics procurement, Senior Adviser Mervyn Jones from Rijkswaterstaat of the Netherlands, analysed for us Espoo’s purchasing data for 2022(external link) and provided us with a tool for assessing the effectiveness of purchases and prioritising development work,” Ilomäki continues. The CityLoops project itself has also examined different sustainable procurement themes.

In the analysis method, purchasing data was first sorted into a manageable number of different procurement categories. After this, the categories were evaluated according to where the best opportunities to influence the overall sustainability of the production chain and the sector in question from the perspective of the circular economy could be found. It should be noted that the data for 2022 include the data of the wellbeing services county, which means that the purchase volumes and relations between different categories will look different in the future.

The analysis compares procurement categories and their influence through four different dimensions:

  1. Spend: the more money is spent on a particular category, the greater the volume that can influence its market.
  2. Risk: Which procurement categories have the greatest significance and risk in the city's operations in general? How well can the procurement criteria’s impact on the relevant category and production sector be predicted and controlled? To what extent do the sustainable procurement criteria of the category in question affect the municipality's reputation as a sustainable city?
  3. Scope: How much leeway towards a more sustainable direction still exists in the procurement category and production sector? Has every option been exhausted or are there still steps that have not been taken?
  4. Influence: How much can the actors in a value chain be influenced with public procurements?

A simultaneous cross-examination of these four dimensions will provide a good view of the potential impact of the procurement criteria of each procurement category.

 “At Espoo, the procurement criteria pursuant to sustainable development are applied to every procurement, but preparing more specific and exacting procurement criteria that improve the circulation rate of plastics is not a simple task. The report we have compiled will help us choose our first steps in an effective and transparent manner,” says Development Manager Tiia Tuuri.

Greatest circular economy potential found in construction, waste management and catering services

Construction, catering, office and teaching supplies, building maintenance and textiles have the greatest potential to replace plastics with more sustainable alternatives and increase the use of recycled plastics.

The report provided us with a lot of information and new perspectives. The analysis sparked a fruitful discussion on the impact that different sectors and procurement categories have on the circular economy and the circulation of plastics. In the figure above, categories are ranked from the most impactful to the least impactful. In terms of the circular economy, the most significant areas were construction, waste management and infrastructure. Catering services and teaching supplies also hold many opportunities for influence through procurements.

The results of the report can be compared to each municipality's own characteristics and purchases. Since the monetary value of the different procurement categories was not the only determining factor in the report, its results can be generalised quite well to cover other Finnish cities as well.

The analysis primarily tells about the opportunities to influence the circular economy as a whole – the plastics perspective was included in the phase where the results were interpreted. In the figure, categories involving significant plastic packaging are marked with a red check mark, and categories involving significant amounts of plastic but which have potential for increasing the share of recycled plastic in products themselves are marked with a blue star. The most important categories for plastics were construction, catering, office and teaching supplies, building maintenance and textiles.

The operations of catering services have a lot of potential when it comes to improving the recycling rate of packaging plastics and reducing the amount of single-use plastics.

We are developing sustainable procurement criteria for construction plastics

As our own development target we selected the procurements of construction, which are also economically very significant, because they have potential in terms of improving the recycling rate of both packaging plastics and products. A city that grows at a rapid pace requires a lot of construction, and we are investing in the sustainability of construction in different sectors and several other development projects, including the new Sustainable Future Districts project. In addition, discussions with different actors to survey plastics projects showed that the sustainability of construction plastics is a hot topic at the moment and that the sector is ready to embrace change.

"Several actors in the construction sector, such as Skanska, Lujatalo Oy and Renta Oy, have already committed to the Green Deal for construction plastics(external link) jointly prepared by the actors in the construction and plastics sector. Now we need more concrete guidelines and shared rules for how the recycling of plastics can be taken increasingly into account in municipalities and public procurements,” Tuuri says.

The aim is to make the criteria available to everyone in Motiva's criteria bank(external link) that is being renewed, and to cooperate with the actors of the green deal. Motiva’s training package for construction plastics(external link) provides a good foundation for developing municipalities’ own competence in plastics and procurements.

Plastics in the construction sector are examined in the Closed Plastic Circle project.

Join us in creating procurement criteria based on the circular economy

Procurements are an important way of influencing the municipality's carbon footprint and sustainable development. The criteria should be prepared in close market dialogue with suppliers and in cooperation with different municipalities. We will present the results of the Espoo purchasing data analysis and give tips for developing procurements to support the circular economy in a webinar on 13 October.

Our next step will be working on criteria for construction procurements. Our goal is to have practical requirements that are easy to implement and which can be introduced as widely and quickly as possible. On 31 October, we will organise a workshop where the form and content of the criteria will be examined and developed through cooperation. The workshop is intended for experts implementing construction procurements in municipalities and other actors in the sector in Uusimaa and Päijät-Häme.

Is making a purchase a current issue for you? Come and join us in developing sustainable procurement criteria and include them in your own procurement right away! Register here(external link).

In addition, we will talk with market actors to identify good practices and survey the readiness of the market. When the procurement criteria for construction are ready in spring 2024, we will also hold training about them for bodies conducting procurements.

Follow the project page of the Closed Plastic Circle – from Pilots to Practice project to receive information on the current progress of the procurement package as well as other plastics matters. The project strives to achieve a better market for recycled plastics.

More information:

Carbon-neutral circular economy – How the circular economy is developed in Espoo


Tiia Tuuri

Development Manager, ecosystems+358 40 6369757
  • Sustainability