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Plastic recycling in big cities doubles in 2019

Recycling in Vantaa rose more than 180 percent -- a waste management expert said it is "just the beginning".

Kovaa muovia jätelavalla
The popularity of plastic recycling is taking off. Image: Pyry Sarkiola / Yle

Finnish consumers recycled a record amount of plastic in 2019, according to regional waste management agencies. Finns recycled plastic at double or even triple the rate of the previous year.

Large cities and the capital region saw the highest increase in plastic recycling. Some 90 percent more plastic was recycled in Helsinki and in Espoo, while Vantaa saw a meteoric 186 percent increase in the reuse of plastic.

Operations chief Pertti Tammivuori from Finnish Packaging Recycling Ltd (Rinki) said that improved eco-consciousness has heightened awareness of the benefits of sorting trash.

"People are waking up. A big part of that is national broadcaster Yle's 'I Love Muovi' [I Love Plastic] campaign," Tammivuori said.

The Yle project emphasised the use and recycling capacity of plastic, with slogans such as "life without plastic is a naïve dream – plastic itself is not the bad guy".

Some 600 Rinki eco bins are situated in supermarket parking lots and other public areas. In the largest cities the facilities gather hundreds of thousands of tonnes of plastic for recycling each year.

"I predict that plastic recycling will only increase next year, and housing company bins will outperform supermarket collection points," said Vesa Kärhä, CEO of the Finnish Plastics Industries Federation. "This is just the beginning."

Finnish Plastics Recycling Ltd manages and develops plastic reuse in Finland. Around 580 domestic companies in the plastics industry employ 12,000 people.

Housing companies join in

Housing companies that manage apartment buildings and semi-detached houses have also upped their ante in the plastic recycling game. Yellow-coloured plastic waste recycling bins have appeared on over 2,000 properties during the 2019 holiday season.

"New housing companies are joining all the time," said customer service chief Virpi Leppälä from the Kymenlaakso region's waste management firm. "Growth has been exponential."

Leppälä agreed with Tammivuori that the notoriety of single-use plastics has fanned the flames of recycling among consumers.

"The effects of plastic waste on marine life has been widely publicised. People have clearly been expecting better plastic recycling."

In Kymenlaakso, southeast Finland, housing complexes with more than 10 apartments will be obliged to provide new plastic recycling bins starting in July 2020. In 2021, the policy will extend to all buildings with more than five flats.

Leppälä underlined the importance of providing easily accessible recycling facilities.

"The closer the bin is to someone's home, the easier it will be for them to recycle," she said.

Kouvola, one of the largest cities in the region, saw the highest growth in plastic recycling outside of the capital region (44 percent), driven in large part by inhabitants of single-family houses also picking up the pace and transporting their plastic waste to Rinki sites.

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