English 23.4.2013

From Ecopoints towards a functional take-back point network

The Ecopoint pilot scheme to examine the collection of household packaging waste and consumer packaging has provided useful information for the drafting of the new packaging decree. The results will also be taken into account in the planning and establishment of a take-back point network.


The Ecopoint pilot scheme to examine the collection of household packaging waste and consumer packaging has provided useful information for the drafting of the new packaging decree. The results will also be taken into account in the planning and establishment of a take-back point network.

The pilot scheme examined the structural effectiveness of the various ecopoints and regional collection points, operational costs, the composition of the materials taken to the collection equipment, the options concerning logistics and material handling as well as consumer opinion of its operating model.

HFT Network Oy was the external consultant and coordinator of the pilot scheme and compiled the final report on the project. Its CEO, Jukka Koivisto, states that the pilot scheme provided a relatively good view of how materials gather at the various types of collection points. “The project provided good additional information that can be used when setting up a countrywide network,” he explains.

Best results on public thoroughfares

A total quantity of 546 tonnes of discarded cardboard, glass, plastic and metal packaging, including small-sized metal items, was collected during the pilot scheme. There is a lot of previous experience of collecting cardboard, glass and small-sized metal items, but plastic packaging was collected for the first time.

Koivisto states that the largest collections of materials were obtained from ecopoints located in or near large shopping centres or hypermarkets. “These are also worth using as a basic network in the future so that initial costs can be minimised. Consumers are used to returning packaging while shopping in retail outlets,” he says.

The next largest collections were obtained from collection points located in town centres, with the least coming from isolated small collection points in residential areas or small population centres.

Collection points with sufficient capacity are the most effective. It is also worth testing compactors for cardboard and plastic in these large-scale collection centres if the material amounts to over two tonnes per month. In this way, capital outlay will not be too heavy.

Finns are good at sorting

The results indicate that Finns are very good at sorting various materials if they receive sufficiently clear instructions.

“Cardboard packaging waste was quite clean and the level of purity for glass largely met the quality required in normal glass collection. One could return other metal than just metal packaging to the collection bins for metals at the ecopoints and, surprisingly, only half of the returned metal in the bin was metal packaging. Nevertheless, there were not many impurities in the metal fraction,” Koivisto says. On the other hand, there were more impurities in the plastic fraction with almost one third of the collected material not constituting plastic packaging. The reason may lie in the different instructions provided by the ecopoints. Impure plastics can be recovered as energy or recycled fuel. Instructions and information should be made clearer for the collection to provide recyclable material. Moreover, there should be a greater application of technical resources or plastics technology.

Consumers satisfied with the ecopoints

Based on the calculations carried out, an efficient network covering the major part of Finland’s population can be set up using 450 ecopoints. The aim is to create a comprehensive scheme, comprising collection points and equipment together with the appropriate logistics, which will be cost-effective and pay due attention to environmental matters. The challenge is to organise such a collection scheme in sparsely populated areas. “The environmental impacts of the scheme will be examined later. Among other things, this examination should take into account eco-efficiency, collection in relation to distances and others factors that affect the environment,” states Koivisto.

The consumer questionnaires revealed that use of ecopoints in the pilot scheme has increased. Consumers responded that they have used the deposit-based return scheme for beverage packaging most of all, followed by an ecopoint in or near a retail outlet, thirdly household waste collection and least of all unmanned regional collection points. Consumers are very satisfied with the ecopoints, their location and the sorting instructions given. The quantity of materials that can be returned to ecopoints was considered to be adequate.


Instructions for collection more precise

The pilot scheme indicated that information concerning the location of collection points and applicable sorting instructions for waste fractions can be made more readily available to consumers by means of communication channels. According to Koivisto, the instructions should be made more precise so that sufficiently pure recyclable material can be obtained for recycling. “Information should be made available to consumers on both a national and a local level. Producer organisations bear the responsibility for the national provision of information. Locally, this responsibility belongs to the partners selected by the producer organisations, such as local waste facilities,” he explains.

Drafting of the decree is being conducted in cooperation with various parties. The aim is that the decree will come into force in spring 2014.

What ecopoint pilot scheme?

The new Waste Act came into force in May 2012. It extends producer responsibility for packaging, stipulating that producers, comprising packers and importers of packed products with a turnover of over EUR 1m, are required to set up take-back points for discarded packaging so that consumers may effortlessly deliver packaging free of charge to take-back schemes organised by the respective producer organisations.

When decisions on the take-back scheme are made, the type, quality and estimated quantity of packaging as well as the environmental impacts and related costs resulting from take-back and transportation, should all be taken into according to the Waste Act. The producer organisations for packaging, the Environmental Register of Packaging PYR Ltd, the Finnish Food Marketing Association, the Federation of Finnish Commerce, the Finnish Food and Drink Federation and the Finnish Solid Waste Association decided to set up the ecopoint pilot scheme to study the requirements connected to the establishment of the necessary reception point network.

The pilot scheme was carried out in Pirkanmaa, including Tampere and Kangasala, and in Kuopio, including Lapinlahti. Ten different collection points, most already in use, were selected for testing in both regions. 60 per cent of the collection points in Pirkanmaa were located in or near retail outlets and 80 per cent in the Kuopio region.

text Laura Heikkinen | illustration Janne Harju