Editorial 28.9.2017

Tough targets for packaging waste recycling rates

The packaging statistics published in the summer were great news. The recycling rate for packaging waste exceeded 60 per cent for the first time in 2015. We are going in the right direction, especially as we know that there will be even tighter requirements to come.

Tough targets for packaging waste recycling rates

The Packaging Decree sets the target at 65 per cent by 2020, which will require additional action, not to mention the 75-per cent goal that the European Commission is planning to set for 2030.

The material-specific targets, except that for wooden packaging waste, were reached in 2015. The recycling rate target for wooden packaging waste is difficult for Finland. There is much virgin timber available in Finland, and it is difficult to find viable recycling methods for wooden packaging waste, especially when the trend is to substantially increase the use of renewable energy. Using wood waste in energy generation is a natural method but does not help the efforts to reach the recycling target.

The target of 75 per cent sketched by the European Commission would be a huge challenge in terms of arranging the recycling procedures. Wooden packaging, in particular, constitutes such a large proportion of the total packaging that it would be impossible to reach the overall target without a considerable increase in the recycling rate of wooden packaging waste. Even if 100 per cent of the other packaging materials were recycled, the recycling level for wooden packaging waste would need to increase to 20 per cent. This would mean recycling 45,000 tonnes of wooden packaging waste instead of the current level of 28,000 tonnes. In practical terms, achieving this goal would require an even more significant increase. The Commission has proposed a recycling rate for wooden packaging waste alone of 75 per cent, which would mean increasing the amount of recycled material to approximately 170,000 tonnes per year, which would involve an enormous change to the current situation.

The statutory recycling requirements, bans on the disposal of waste in landfills and various taxes are the main means to control waste management activities and related business operations. Policies of this type usually translate into higher costs for those who pay for the activities, while they generate business that would not exist otherwise. It is vital for the environment – that means all of us – that these activities are controlled, but the lack of knowledge is a problem. For example, no one seems to have research data about the ideal level, from the environmental perspective, of the recycling rate of wooden packaging waste in Finland, which is covered in forest. The only thing we can be sure of is that the requirements for high recycling rates will increase the costs payable by those who are responsible for recycling.

27.9.2017

Juha-Heikki Tanskanen