5 minutes with… Karl Edsjö, director, Environmental & EU Affairs, Electrolux, Sweden

5 minutes with… Karl Edsjö, director, Environmental & EU Affairs, Electrolux, Sweden

October 8, 2019
Lloyd Fuller

For Electrolux, the circular economy started in the early 1990s. But the company’s Karl Edsjö, a keynote speaker at E-Waste World Conference & Expo, still thinks it has some way to go, especially as awareness about environmental issues is at its highest ever and the environmental challenges transformed from local to truly global such as climate change, plastic pollution and the even the extinction of species

How did you end up the sustainability sector and with Electrolux?
That came about as a consequence of a master thesis I wrote on the use of green arguments in marketing and where I focused on white goods specifically. While doing the interviews with Electrolux stakeholders, I was offered a role within the sustainability department.

What does your role entail?
My role is centred around material efficiency, in different forms. From the outset, I was mainly focused on how to handle the implementation of the WEEE Directive in European Union member states, both in terms of national policy developments and in terms of how to practically handle the requirements that followed. As these tasks more or less came to a conclusion some years ago, my attention shifted towards how Electrolux could actually move towards closing the loops, as intended by the WEEE Directive. Our products are mainly made out of plastic and steel, and while steel and other metal recycling is an historically well-established practice, the opposite is true of plastic, with very little plastic recycled and re-used. So, the most obvious thing to start with in terms of closing the loop was to work with recycled plastics, and that is now one of my main tasks. In addition to that, I also have a responsibility in identifying circular economy options for the company. Currently we are looking into different options such as life-time extension and new business models. On top of working on plastics and other circular economy projects inside the company, I am also active on the policy side of plastics and circular.

Our products are mainly made out of plastic and steel, and while steel and other metal recycling is an historically well-established practice, the opposite is true of plastic, with very little plastic recycled and re-used

What exciting projects/innovations are you working on at the moment?
We are continuously working on increasing the share of recycled plastic we use, to replace virgin plastic. This is a work that now has gone on for a few years but I still find it an exciting area since we are also continuously pushing the borders for what can be done with recycled materials. And to be clear, I believe we have achieved a lot but there is a lot more to be done in this area. The projects that fall into the circular economy category are very exciting, again because we have to push some boundaries and explore many different options to identify some that will work both from an environmental and economic point of view. Overall, I find an interest in projects that meet both environmental and economic ambitions.

The projects that fall into the circular economy category are very exciting, again because we have to push some boundaries and explore many different options to identify some that will work both from an environmental and economic point of view

You obviously follow coverage of WEEE and plastic pollution, too. Do you think WEEE should be getting more exposure?
Plastic pollution is so visible and gets very close to our health and physical well-being, as well as the well-being of the environment. And it is literally everywhere. There is clearly too little attention to some of the most negative consequences of e-waste. We still have very poor e-waste management in several places around the globe, affecting both people and nature though mostly on a local scale. I believe that is one clear difference between e-waste and plastics, chemical pollution from e-waste is less obvious than plastic fragments floating in the sea and littering our beaches.

As part of your role within Electrolux, you need to pay attention to legislative requirements for producers. What are your views of the regulations?
The main problem I see with e-waste legislation is that there is a mismatch between how legislators understand the world of recycling and what is actually happening, especially when it comes to the European Union WEEE Directive. That was obvious soon after it was first introduced around 2006. The fundamental missing point or misunderstanding in the legislation is that legislators did not factor in the value of waste and assumed that all waste is a net cost. For large household appliances that make up the biggest share of e-waste, metal value has always been and still remains a key driver in the collection of discarded products (with some exceptions for cooling products) since the metal value outweighs the cost of treatment. Having recognized the opportunity of value-driven waste management would probably have given us a different WEEE Directive.

The main problem I see with e-waste legislation is that there is a mismatch between how legislators understand the world of recycling and what is actually happening, especially when it comes to the European Union WEEE Directive

Which countries are success stories for you when it comes to dealing with e-waste and why?
Even if being somewhat critical of the EU e-waste legislation, I would say that in a global context it is a success and sets the EU apart from other regions of the world. Overall, I believe EU legislation has been important for improving the sustainability of waste management.

What do you hope delegates will take away from what you tell them in your presentation and what are you hoping to hear from others?
That you can successfully introduce more sustainable materials and improve your business case while doing so. From the other speakers, I hope to hear about successful transitions where companies or other actors have moved in more sustainable and circular ways of operating, selling and providing services.


Karl Edsjö will be delivering a presentation entitled ‘
How the introduction of sustainable materials can improve your business case’ at E-Waste World Conference & Expo (synopsis below). The conference will take place from Thursday 14 November to Friday 15 November at the Kap Europa, Frankfurt Messe, Germany. To register for this highly focused, solutions-driven event, please click here. For sponsorship and exhibition opportunities, please email peter@trans-globalevents.com
Within the circular economy, Electrolux is exploring a number of different areas with a primary focus on the use of secondary raw materials. Since the launch of the ‘Green Range’ vacuum cleaners in 2010, the company has continued to expand its use of recycled plastic and has successfully introduced it in a number of applications. Now the company is also looking into other areas of circular solutions with connected appliances, alternative business models and closer cooperation with third parties along the value chain.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This