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Plastic recycling takes off rapidly in Finland

People in Finland have quickly embraced the new recycling system for plastic, which was launched this spring.

Kaikki kuvassa näkyvät muoviroskat kuuluvat kierrätykseen. Image: Jenni Frilander / Yle

The planned network of plastic take-back points is just getting off the ground, but the company installing it promises 500 sites for used packaging plastic this summer. In Oulu, the first points were installed in early May, while some southern towns have already had them for months.

The new Rinki eco-points were launched at the beginning of this year. That also marked the long-awaited start of national collection of plastic waste, but there have been delays in installing recycling devices. There should be 500 of them by the end of July.

Three began operation in the northern city of Oulu. Altogether there are plans to set up 20 take-back points in the city and the surrounding North Ostrobothnia region.

"Most of them will probably open in June, but we don't know the exact schedule," says Pia Vilenius of Finnish Packaging Recycling Rinki Ltd.

People in Finland have quickly embraced the new recycling system, Vilenius tells Yle.

"It's great how customers have been able to find the take-back points and are using them even more than we expected. The material that's being placed in them is good, in other words people have also figured out how to sort it."

Different plastics gum up the works

Any clean, dry household plastic packaging can be put into the boxes, such as yoghurt containers, margarine and butter tubs, detergent bottles, plastic bags and wrappings as well as other plastic containers.

Vilenius stresses that plastic bottle tops and lids should be loose and separate as they are often different grades of plastic. In the recycling process, various types of plastic are identified and separated by an optical reading device. If two different kinds of plastic are attached to each other, only one is recognised. Some plastic will then end up in the wrong recycling group, which can significantly hamper the process.

Plastic recycling is voluntary. Plastic can still be thrown out with regular rubbish, which is incinerated as energy waste.

"Since a lot of trash is plastic, some people are tactically taking plastic in for recycling, which means their garbage cans can be emptied less often, saving them on trash collection fees," notes Markku Illikainen, managing director of city-owned waste disposal firm Oulun Jätehuolto.

Overflowing popularity

Plastic collection also helps Finland reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and reach its recycling targets. These are in line with the EU goal of recycling half of municipal solid waste this year.

By law plastic packaging recycling must be offered in towns with over 10,000 residents.

Since recycling centre operations were handed over to Rinki at the beginning of the year, many receptacles have been overflowing because they were not emptied frequently enough. The company has responded by installing bigger containers and servicing them more often.

"Our network is constantly expanding and we're adjusting collection times according to use. We now aim to empty them when they are 80 percent full. This now mainly seems to be working well throughout the network," says Vilenius.

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