Overcoming the institutional obstacles of industrial recycling

Jarkko Levänen

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles

Abstract

The circular economy is a topical issue in public policy and environmental social science. This dissertation offers a critical study of operations intended to develop a circular economy and industrial recycling of materials. The study identifies obstacles that prevent or delay the development of industrial recycling and seeks new solutions for overcoming these obstacles. Institutional obstacles are at the core of this work. They can be identified either as formal obstacles, such as legal or administrative problems, or as informal obstacles, such as problems related to routines or established practices. Traditionally, institutional obstacles have been considered either formal or informal. This dissertation challenges that conception and claims that often the most difficult obstacles are those that operate between the formal and the informal. Operating in between disconnects formal (administrative) institutional reality from informal (operative) institutional reality. It is challenging, if not impossible, to develop formal rules or ways of doing things related to a particular issue once the connection related to that issue has been cut off, because formal and informal realities are structurally dependent on one another. At the same time the dissertation points out that once the disconnection has been identified, it is possible to reunite formal and informal realities. This can be done by means of an institutional feedback mechanism that fits the local circumstances. Institutional feedback means maintenance of knowledge exchange between actors and groups of actors operating in different realities. In an industrial context, institutional feedback may, for example, enable the development of new kinds of recycling opportunities and continuous intensification of the materials utilization. Novel institutional feedback mechanisms may also offer new possibilities for overcoming obstacles in the development of recycling and the promotion of the circular economy in different sectors of society. This dissertation consists of four case studies that investigate the management of materials and other resources in industrial units located in the Bothnian Arc region of northern Finland. The industrial units studied cover the fields of Finland s traditional basic industries: the metal, wood-processing, and chemical industries. The primary data for this study consist of interview materials, questionnaires, and documentary sources. The main points of interest are two types of recycling: 1) the utilization of different leftover materials as replacements for existing products or as raw materials, and 2) the development of completely new kinds of recycling products and innovative recycling processes. Both types are considered especially from the perspectives of institutional obstacles and feedback mechanisms aimed at overcoming the obstacles. The key result of this study is a theoretical presentation of the structure and functioning of an institutional feedback mechanism. To function in a complex operational environment, an institutional feedback mechanism should consist of two components: the production of the right kind of knowledge (knowledge networking) and the management and maintenance of a network of actors that are central to the specific aims (network governance). This dissertation shows different ways to identify, conceptualize, and study these two components of institutional feedback mechanisms. By means of an example, the study also demonstrates how an institutional feedback mechanism can be constructed and how it can be utilized to overcome practical problems and profound institutional obstacles. Policy recommendations for the management of complex operational environments and for the promotion of a circular economy and material efficiency are also presented.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • University of Helsinki
Publisher
Print ISBNs978-951-51-1026-8
Electronic ISBNs978-951-51-1025-1
Publication statusPublished - 2015
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)

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