Juha-Heikki Tanskanen
Juha-Heikki Tanskanen
Perspective 6.10.2023

Let’s make Finland a trailblazer in plastic recycling

Recycling plastic pays off: using recycled plastic reduces the need to use virgin plastic. A kilogram of recycled plastic would save 1.5 kilograms of CO2 emissions compared to a kilogram of new plastic. And yet plastic packaging is often only used once.

Packaging is recycled efficiently in Finland. More than 90% of fibre and glass packaging and more than 80% of metal packaging is recycled. This proves that Finns know how to recycle. With these figures, we have exceeded the EU’s recycling targets for 2025 and 2030.

Plastic is an excellent packaging material, but there is room for improvement when it comes to recycling it. Approximately 30% of plastic packaging is currently recycled, while the target for 2025 is 50%. The EU Commission issued a warning to 19 member states in June about their recycling rate of plastic packaging, which is not progressing as it should to meet the target. Finland was one of the recipients of this warning.

The Commission recommended increasing separate collections and offering consumer advice to improve the recycling rate. Finns proved to be model students because the amendment to the Waste Decree, made before the Commission’s warning, extended the collection of plastic packaging to all residential properties of at least five households to start at the beginning of July. Similarly, the amendment of the Packaging Waste Decree expanded the collection of plastic packaging to about 300 new Rinki take-back points.

So why is the recycling rate of plastic packaging lagging behind other materials? The main reason is probably the fact that plastic recycling was only introduced in Finland in 2016, while people had learned to recycle other types of packaging in the 20th century. It takes time to change a nation’s behaviour, and recycling plastic packaging is not yet an integral part of our everyday lives by any means. This is a familiar issue to those who have been involved in health and traffic education.

One reason why recycling plastic packaging is so complicated is the great variety of the material. There are several types of plastics and they are also used in combinations. This makes it possible to produce lightweight packaging that extends the shelf life of food products, but also causes problems at the recycling plant, and not all plastics can be processed into clean raw material.

Plastic deserves to be recycled and an extended collection network awaits recyclers. Let’s make plastic packaging recycling a part of everyday life in Finland!