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Lapland struggles to contain growing garbage problem

In the high season Lapland transports truckloads of mixed waste 800 kilometres across the border to Sweden for processing.

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Trash about to go up in smoke. Image: Vantaan Energia

During the busy winter season the seasonal population in Kittilä quintuples and so does the trash left behind. Christmas wrapping paper, food packaging and biodegradable waste are usually thrown out unsorted.

In the first week of January seven truckloads of mixed waste headed hundreds of kilometres south across the border to Sweden for incineration.

”Now the trash is going to Sundsvall, Sweden [800 km away] and next month we will transport it to Kiiruna, some 300 kilometres across the Swedish border. It travels quite a long way,” Pertti Hettula of Hettula Oy, a company collecting waste from Lapland’s holiday resorts in Levi and Ylläs, told Yle.

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Trash pick-up in Levi, Lapland. Image: Annu Passoja / Yle

With Oulu’s waste incineration plant too full to process any more trash, Lapland has no choice but to transport its waste to Sweden. Recycling would help minimise the heaps of mixed waste refuse, but collection points at ski resorts are few and far between.

”Tourists arrive by train, plane or bus, so they’re not going to take a taxi to recycle their garbage,” said waste entrepreneur Hettula.

Tourists criticise poor recycling

Trash bins in Levi's centre, built to resemble an idyllic chalet village, are overflowing, causing visitors to complain, according to Yrjötapio Kivisaari of Levi Tourist Office.

With only four recycling points serving the entire Levi ski resort area, some municipal leaders and tourist operators worry that Lapland’s brand will suffer.

”One problem is that we have several companies collecting waste in the area. With so many actors, it is difficult to streamline collection,” said Kittilä’s Environmental Inspector Piippa Wäli.

Meanwhile Hettula said his waste management company will start picking up glass, metal, and possibly biowaste from Levi and Ylläs this year, provided resorts and cottage owners set up recycling bins.

Lapland defends garbage burning

Meanwhile Lapeco, a federation of Lapland municipalities, has two more years left on an agreement with Oulu’s waste incineration plant.

”The energy harnessed from the waste is 15-fold compared to the fuel spent transporting it to Oulu,” said Lapeco CEO Osmo Aikio, though conceding that visitors' feedback is putting pressure on Lapland to improve its recycling capabilities.

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