Legislation 9.12.2021

Krista Mikkonen: “Producer responsibility is the cornerstone of circular economy”

The new Minister of the Interior, Krista Mikkonen, says that producer responsibility should be further extended and, above all, made more transparent. But companies with producer responsibility will not be left alone, the minister promises.

By Heli Satuli

Images Finnish Government

Rinki eco take-back points are a familiar service to Minister of the Interior, Krista Mikkonen (the Greens). Mikkonen, who has served as Minister of the Environment and Climate Change in two governments, is used to sorting waste both at home in Joensuu and in her flat in Helsinki. She thinks that recycling is easy. 

– When we are in Joensuu, we take all recyclable packaging materials to the Rinki eco take-back point at the supermarket near us. There are also collection points for electrical devices and batteries at the supermarket, and we compost our biowaste. 

In Helsinki, the collection points are in the back yard of the building. 

The minister points out, however, that the most important thing is not to produce waste in the first place – a principle that is also followed by the Mikkonen family.

-We only buy what we need, we repair what’s broken and find ways – sometimes very creative ways – to reuse objects that we no longer need. 

Room for improvement
Mikkonen thinks that many packaging materials are recycled “relatively well” in Finland in relation to the EU targets, citing glass, metal and cardboard as positive examples. Finland can be proud of its bottle deposit return system. 

-It’s definitely something to shout out about, says Mikkonen.  

There is still much room for improvement in terms of recycling plastics, though, both in Finland and in the other EU countries. Mikkonen says that the new Waste Act will make it easier to improve the recycling figures for plastic. 

-I’m glad that the recycling of textiles will also increase rapidly in the next few years as this is an area that needs to be improved, says Mikkonen, who mentions the first industrial end-of-life textile refinement plant in the Nordic countries, which was recently opened in Paimio.  

Finland hopes that the EU would introduce regulations to force the textile industry to make its operations more sustainable and in line with circular economy. The EU is, indeed, preparing a strategy for sustainable textiles, to be published in early 2022. 

Stepping up a gear in recycling
Speaking about the Waste Act, which came into force in summer 2021, the Minister says that she is, first and foremost, pleased that the legal reform, which was long in preparation, has finally been completed.  

-The new Waste Act is an important step in curbing the over-consumption of natural resources. It’s one of the necessary steps to achieving our recycling targets.

The new Waste Act raises Finland’s recycling targets to the level set by the EU Directive. The recycling targets will go up in two stages: 65% of packaging materials will have to be recycled in 2025 and 70% in 2030. 

The recycling targets for packaging do not seem very ambitious at first glance, as the recycling rate for packaging is already over 70% in Finland, but the opposite is actually true: changes to the calculation principle will make the targets difficult to achieve. Up until now, the recycling rate has been based on the volume collected for recycling, but moving forward it will be based on the material that is actually recycled and reused. Not all of the collected material can be used as raw material so increasing the recycling rate requires a significant increase in sorting and recycling. Meeting the new targets will be a huge challenge, especially in terms of plastic packaging.  

-The reformed Waste Act makes sorting easier for consumers. More Finnish people will have separate collection containers in their apartment building’s back yard. I know that many people have been waiting for the recycling of plastics and textiles to be made easier, says Mikkonen. 

Producer responsibility works 
Mikkonen became familiar with the waste management and recycling industry even before she became a politician: she worked as a project manager at the waste management company Puhas Oy for several years. 

Mikkonen is equally familiar with producer responsibility. It may sound lame as a term, but it is full of power, says the minister. 

-Producer responsibility can be said to be one of the cornerstones of circular economy. It plays a key role in increasing the recycling rate and reducing the consumption of natural resources.

Mikkonen thinks that the producer responsibility scheme for packaging has mainly worked well and has also brought incentives to create new, more sustainable packaging solutions.  

The reform of the Waste Act extended producer responsibility. According to Mikkonen, the aim of the reform is to promote the equal treatment of companies with producer responsibility, improve the cost-effectiveness of producer responsibility schemes and encourage companies to make products in a more ecological way. Producer responsibility fees will be eco-modulated, i.e. graded so that they take into account the recyclability and reusability of packaging. It is hoped that recyclability would be taken into account when designing new packaging. 

A new producer organisation is being set up in Finland, as the Waste Act requires one packaging producer organisation to take care of producer responsibility for all packaging materials. Due to the changes in the law, the current packaging producer organisations will combine their operations to work as one company 

“Bearing the responsibility must be made easy”
Mikkonen points out that the development of the producer responsibility scheme does not end here, quite the opposite. 
“Producer responsibility must be further extended and made more transparent. It is important that distance selling from outside the EU is included in the scheme so that those companies are also made to bear their responsibilities. 

Mikkonen says, however, that bearing the responsibility must be made as easy as possible for companies. 
“One stop shop -principle is important.”

The new Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Emma Kari (the Greens), is continuing the planning work to extend the producer responsibility as Mikkonen became Minister of the Interior in November 2021. 

In addition to producer responsibility, there are also other issues affected by new regulations – far too many if you ask businesses. Mikkonen understands that the situation may seem difficult from a business perspective. She points out that the over-consumption of natural resources is the cause of both the climate crisis and biodiversity loss. For this reason, it’s important to regulate the packaging industry so that environmental problems can be solved. 

Resolving the sustainability crisis will require extensive and immediate societal changes in the next few years. There’s a need for the changes that are being prepared. I do realise that bringing so many standards up to date at the same time causes problems.

Mikkonen says that she has been pleased to see how numerous large companies have integrated sustainability into their operations in recent years. 

-The packaging industry is eager to create solutions. Companies play a key role in making sustainable solutions attractive to consumers.  

 Mikkonen says that a lot can be achieved by working together. 

-Companies with producer responsibility need to be engaged in the change process. That’s why the Ministry of the Environment has emphasised collaboration between stakeholders. We need to engage everyone in order to solve the environmental crisis.

Who: Krista Mikkonen 

Job: Minister of the Interior, former Minister of the Environment and Climate Change (June 2019 – November 2021)  
Education: Master of Arts, Biologist 
Party: The Greens 
Career: Member of Parliament, Project Manager at Waste Management Company Puhas Oy, Club Developer at the Sports Federation of North Karelia, Coordinator at the North Karelia Environment Centre, Biologist at the Cooperative of Environmental Specialists TOIMI.  
Place of residence: Joensuu 
Family: husband and 3 sons