One of the first things I noticed when I arrived in my apartment in Helsinki was that there are many little garbage bins in the kitchen. I asked myself why is there not just one big one. I realized very early that those little garbage bins were meant for waste separation. I always thought that Switzerland is leading in recycling but Finland is way more into it. Finns are very aware and concerned about environmental problems and separating and recycling waste material is an easy practical way you can do something that will benefit the environment.
They do not only separate plastic, glass, metal, carton and paper but also biowaste – waste that is biodegradable. This waste separation is not only meant to be done in households but for example also in the canteen of the university. Every student has to first separate the waste before giving back the tray.
My apartment block and similar housing cooperatives have their own handy shared collection points for different kinds of waste, which makes recycling easy. So the first time when I went to this collection point I was a bit overchallenged with all the different containers in different colours. But then I remembered that we the person responsible for our apartment had given us an information sheet with the guidelines on how to handle the garbage separation. On this sheet there were pictures of the different containers in different colours and it was well explained what was supposed to be in the specific container.
But I couldn’t find the container for cans and drinking bottles made out of glass and plastic. I then realized that all the cans and the drinking bottles of glass and plastic have a deposit and that you have to bring them back to the shops to get a refund. The machines in which you have to put the empty cans and bottles are called “the reverse vending machine”. I love the name given to this recycling stations found in most supermarkets and groceries here. Instead of putting in money and receiving a bottle, you put in bottles and receive money. Some machines also provide the option of donating your refund to charity.
First I thought that the whole refund system is a little bit annoying but I also recognized the benefit of this system. Once we were drinking in a park before going to a party. I started to notice that there’s a community of people who make their way around collecting used cans and bottles to earn a bit of cash from recycling. In fact people deliberately leave bottles and cans out for those who collect them, to save them having to sort through the city’s bins. The benefit here is that they not only get money from collecting the cans but also there is so much less waste on the streets or in parks (if you think about how the “Grosse Schanze” sometimes looks like in the morning…).
However the return rate of recyclable plastic bottles, glass bottles and drink cans in Finland is over 90%! The scheme works so well, with the return on containers set at 0,10€ for glass bottles, 0,15€ on cans and up to 0,40€ on plastics.
In Finland companies bear the main responsibility for recycling, but individuals can also make a big difference. I, too, can minimise the burden on the environment that is caused by waste by sorting my packaging waste and bringing it to a recycling point. I realized that every little act helps – even by one individual – so that recycling as a whole works efficiently and reasonably. The more people sort their packaging waste correctly, the more good material can be recovered. This is good for the environment since recycling helps to reduce the amount of new material required for the creation of new products. Recycling saves energy and natural resources. It also reduces carbon dioxide emissions, which are harmful for the environment, and the amount of waste taken to landfill.
For Finnish households, sorting, returning and recycling waste has long been a matter of everyday routine and I think it is becoming one for me too.