Circular Economy Part III: Make recycling part of life

In Mikko Tanner’s home in Helsinki, there are different bins for paper, cardboard, plastics, metal, cans, food waste and mixed waste. When the bins are filled up, he then takes them to the recycling site at their apartment building that has a few larger bins with clear instructions on what goes where. 

The bin for mixed waste is the smallest of these. After disassembling a product that is to be dumped, the residue left for burning does not take up much space. 

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Where Hong Kong seeks to reduce domestic waste by charging trash bags according to volume, Finland promotes a more holistic approach – recycling as much as possible at home to eventually send less waste to the incinerator.  

This is an example of how citizens are participating the country’s circular economy roadmap at the household level.

Education and trust

The Finns have become used to taking glass bottles to the recycling sites for cash refunds. This has helped instill the thinking that recycling brings monetary rewards in the short term, and the habit of recycling in the long run. 

In the Nordic country, there is no talk of penalties for not sorting waste at home or placing waste in the wrong bin. It’s all about consciousness and trust.

The Finns believe in collective responsibility. When one resident does not do his or her job well, others will suffer. It is the idea of “one for all” that encourages them to stick to their recycling routine.

“It is more expensive to process mixed waste. If the bin for mixed waste gets filled up faster, all the residents have to bear the extra costs,” Tanner told Harbour Times.

At his compound, mixed waste is collected by a contractor twice a month. If the contractor has to come more than twice to collect the mixed waste, the extra cost is born by all the residents. Those with a bigger apartment have to pay more.

Tanner said it is impossible to track down who places the waste wrongly or dumps more mixed waste. The solution is to educate people and make them well aware and informed of their actions.

“We place clear signs and instructions next to the bins to teach people what can be recycled, and which bin certain waste goes to. This helps people understand how things work and they have no excuse for not doing it,” he said. 

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Residents also pay a monthly fee to the housing board that manages the apartment building for heating, water and waste management. The cost for recycling is bundled with other utilities, so they don’t feel there is an extra cost to being green.

Be part of it

Tanner is part of the housing board at his compound, which is voluntarily made up by local residents. The board gathers a few times a year to discuss management issues, including sending out reminders to everyone about where to place their waste. 

“To be an influencer, you need to be part of the housing board. Otherwise, others will make decisions for you,” he said. 

In recent years, Finland has been promoting recycling plastic, and this has gathered support from the environmentally conscious younger generation. 

“Three years ago, residents of my building got together to discuss how we wanted to recycle our waste. The younger ones suggested a bin for recycling plastics, while the older residents thought it would be too much work,” Liisa Lemmetty, a 35-year old social worker in Helsinki, told Harbour Times

Lemmetty was part of the housing board at her compound and she and other young residents decided to go ahead and install a bin for recycling plastics. 

“We found that we are actually saving more money by recycling more plastics. By taking one more step, you are actually helping yourself too,” she added. 

Like Tanner, she has six bins at home to separate waste. “It has become a habit and I don’t find it troublesome when sorting my waste,” she said.

While citizens are putting in effort to sort waste from home, the business sector then processes the waste and turns it into products. This goes alongside other efforts, such as reusing waste and adopting sustainable designs. 

This is a national strategy that everyone is part of.