Waste is a terrible thing to waste

ACCORDING TO Statistics Finland, there was 2.7 million tons of community waste produced in 2016. About 3 percent of this waste volume was taken to waste disposal sites.

In Finland that year, the breakdown per person was 500 kilos – the biggest individual waste items were food and beverage, paper, board and cardboard. The total volume of electrical appliances/electronics waste (60,000 tons) is now six times bigger than during the early years of the millennium.

Recycling is necessary, if one wishes to cope with the changing times – in a manner that is both smart and sustainable.

Small waste volume, large emissions

IN THE Greater Helsinki Region, the households produced only eight percent of the total waste volume in 2014. Nevertheless, according to HSY (Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority) the greenhouse gas emissions produced by the households amounted to over 50 % of all the greenhouse gas emissions in the region. How is this possible?

The households’ share of emissions is so large, because a lot of the waste generated in people’s homes has been mixed waste (which has ends up in a landfill). This means that the sorting out process of waste needs to be boosted. Also, the European Union is taking measures to guide Finland and other nations towards a more resource-efficient Europe where recycling is optimized. Mixed household waste unsuitable for recycling ends up in the waste-to-energy plant instead of a landfill.

The change is upon us. New waste legislation took effect in Finland in May 2012, with the purpose of preventing excessive waste production and increasing resource efficiency and recycling. The fact is that the volume of waste has not decreased according to plans – and recycling efforts leave a lot of room for improvement, as well.

A landfill ban on placing organic waste at landfills came into force in 2016 and, at least half of the community waste must be recycled or biologically processed.

Recycling WORKS

RECYCLING CAN be implemented in a meaningful way, as we have learned from the recycling of returnable beverages. The return rate for cans in 2016 was almost 100%. Recyclable plastic bottles (return rate 92 %) and refillable glass bottles (88 %) are not that far behind, either.

It is notable that glass bottles are used and filled up again, 33 times on average. Similarly, the aluminum used in cans can be recycled almost indefinitely; the returned aluminum cans are melted down and the material is used to make new beverage cans. This type of manufacturing requires only five percent of the energy used up by the original manufacturing process.

Paper nation

IN FINLAND, about 77 % of all paper is collected, totaling 500,000 tons on an annual level. This makes up for 5 % of the over-all demand of the pulp and paper industry.

Paper fiber can be recycled 3-5 times which means that forests can be conserved and will keep producing oxygen and fighting climate change.

Total effort

It is clear from these recycling success stories that new, greener measures can be adopted by the public. The next step is to broaden the scope: make sure that we are doing all we can in the recycling department. This job requires a new kind of attitude and little effort in learning the new ways.

The pay-off is considerable: the households and the surrounding city will remain clean and safe, there is reduced burden on the environment and the world is a little better place to live.