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Plastic refinery in Riihimäki


Fortum Waste Solutions Oy, expansion of Plastic refinery in Riihimäki


Primary design and project management, construction consultancy, procurement assistance, safety coordination and structural, electrical and automation design of services outside the primary equipment

Year of implementation


Industry Innovation and infrastructure
Responsible consumption and production

Plastic refinery expansion in Riihimäki tripled Finland’s plastic recycling capacity

The collection of household plastic packaging began in Finland at the start of 2016, and at the same time, Fortum started the construction of the country’s first plastic refinery in Riihimäki. The plant was expanded just a couple of years later, while the quality of the fuel recovered from plastic was also improved. Sweco was the principal designer of the project.

The plastic refinery located in Riihimäki processes separately collected consumer plastic packaging and industrial plastics. According to Finnish Plastics Recycling Ltd, in 2019, the amount of household plastic collected grew by 79 per cent from the previous year. “The growing collection amounts meant that the expansion became absolutely necessary,” explains Development Manager Jarkko Toropainen from Fortum Waste Solutions.

The aim of the expansion project was to significantly increase the processing capacity of the plant, and currently, the plastic refinery can process about 30,000 tonnes of different types of plastic in a year. “We gained new storage facilities, updated our processes and separated two interconnected sorting units. We can now drive them both simultaneously,” Toropainen says.

Another goal was to be able to separate PVC from other plastics. If plastic that has been collected cannot be recycled into new material, the Riihimäki plant turns it into recovered fuel, and PVC is harmful to this process. In the expansion project, the sorting plant gained new optical separators that detect PVC plastic. “This allowed us to reduce the chlorine content of the material, which improves the quality of the recovered fuel.”

Renewal of the extensive sprinkler system

Sweco was in charge of designing the structures and auxiliary services located around the primary equipment. The tasks were expanded along the way. “There were no barriers between different companies working on site, as the experienced project manager was able to find the right people for all the tasks,” Toropainen states, full of praise.

The project required electrical and automation design, among others, as a new fire-extinguishing system was created. “Sprinkler design and installation was the single most challenging task in this project and also one of the biggest successes,” Toropainen says.

Working at night due to heatwaves

Procurement was carried out in an exceptionally tight schedule, and Sweco offered support in drawing up the material for invitations to tender. “We found a contractor with the requisite experience and an open-minded attitude to tackling a tight schedule,” Sweco’s Project Manager Arto Hakola says happily.

Cooperation was also needed in the site installations during the long heatwaves of summer 2018. “The heat made it impossible for us to work in the lightweight halls during the day, meaning that some installations were moved to the night shift,” Hakola explains. This was challenging in itself, as fewer plant employees and supervisors were present during the night.

“It is always challenging to make changes to existing facilities,” Toropainen admits. The key thing was to take other operations in the plant area into account. “The area also contains waste incineration plants, meaning that safe movement and logistics were highly important!”

The project utilised a virtual model that allowed designers to study everything at the correct scale, including the positioning of elements in relation to each other, right from the design phase. “It was an eye-opening and surprisingly life-like experience to view the environment using a virtual headset,” Toropainen explains.

Plastic refinery is the first step in the value chain of circular economy plants

Each kilogram of recycled plastic saves 1.5 kilograms of carbon dioxide compared to using virgin plastic raw materials. In addition to the Fortum Circo® recycled plastic granulate produced in the plastic refinery, the Riihimäki plant area produces district heating, electricity and recovered fuel.

The European Union aims to increase the recycling rate of plastic packaging to 50 per cent by 2025. Finland currently stands at about 30 per cent (2018). “Plastic recycling is a cornerstone of our strategy, and we will continue to develop new solutions in the sector,” Toropainen says.

According to Sweco’s Leena Pirhonen, an expert on circular economy, the separate collection of plastic types shows how the operational principles of industrials plants are changing. “Industrial raw materials increasingly come from recycling and reuse processes.”

Pirhonen feels that the Riihimäki plant is a significant first step in the circular economy of plastics, in which Sweco also wants to be involved. “The plastic refinery kicks off a circular economy value chain that transforms waste into valuable raw materials.”