She is making climate-friendly products from waste
Sara Stiernström’s interest in environmental issues took her from a course in ecotoxicology* at Uppsala University to a Ph.D. In Applied Environmental Science at Stockholm University. It’s not just fantastic colleagues that make EasyMining the perfect workplace for Sara, but also the opportunity to make circular economy a reality.
In the course of her research, Sara encountered representatives from EasyMining’s parent company, Ragn-Sells, on a number of occasions, and they became interested in her research in ecotoxicology and waste classification. Talks led to talks, which led to interesting contacts, and in 2014, the year after Sara completed her thesis, she started as an environmental specialist at Ragn-Sells. An interest in working closer to the business saw her progress through the company, and for almost the last 3 years Sara has been working at Ragn-Sells’ innovation company, EasyMining, as their Product Manager.
– EasyMining provides a fantastic opportunity to contribute to smart circular solutions. Identifying and creating processing pathways from waste to new products is, from an environmental and legislative perspective, precisely what an ecotoxicologist is good at, says Sara.
From recovery to new products
Sara often comes back to the terms circular economy and circular solutions. Achieving this requires a new kind of collaboration throughout the entire value chain, and Sara and her colleagues are working on a lot of different things to ensure that this chain hangs together. They optimise chemical recovery, look at the upstream market to identify customers and the correct raw materials, and convert waste to pure and low-environmental impact products wanted by downstream customers. The material obtained by EasyMining from various waste streams can be converted to a large number of different products for lots of different markets. Sara points to one example, phosphorous, which alone has three different potential markets: conventional farming (mineral fertiliser), organic farming and as feed phosphate.
– We see considerable potential in organic farming, and EasyMining has trialled growing ryegrass in greenhouses using its phosphorous product as a slow release fertiliser, but as yet it's not allowed onto the market for purely legal reasons, explains Sara.
The same goes for feed phosphate. At EasyMining, this kind of feed has been trialled extensively in chickens and pigs, in collaboration with Lantmännen and SLU (the Swedish university of Agricultural Sciences), and with good results.
– We can save a lot of carbon dioxide here by using recovered phosphorous, she adds.
Quality over origin – the challenge of current legislation
As product manager, legislative issues are one of the main areas of focus. Challenges exist here because most legislation is still linear, i.e. focusing on origin instead of quality. Feed legislation fundamentally states that “anything recovered from wastewater, irrespective of additional processing, is prohibited.”
Sara sees it as a fun challenge to try to open these legislative blocks to using nutrients obtained from waste, though at the same time it can also be rather frustrating.
Sara is part of an influence team within Ragn-Sells which focuses primarily on lobbying for the creation of legislation in order to allow the market to be opened up to recovered products. There is considerable interest in their work among politicians throughout Europe, and they are often used as the good examples showing that a new approach is not only possible, but that its time has come. Sara thinks she can see positive trends, with new legislation and initiatives for greater requirements for recycling nutrients from wastewater processing in the pipeline. Although EasyMining is currently working at a European level, it is clear that there is a global need for their solutions.
Sara's active involvement in the Friskis och Svettis exercise organisation in Uppsala will also benefit her colleagues. There is a good sign-up rate to the open-air lunchtime circuit training session, with a lot of people finding it a good and easy way to look after their health.
– They love it when I shout at them, Sara concludes with a smile.
*Ecotoxicology can be described in simple terms as biochemical environmental science. It is a branch of science that has emerged from the growing understanding over the last 40-50 years of the environmental consequences of chemical use in the present age.