03.10.2022 -

Plastic Recycling in Finland Still Faces Expected Challenges

Seeing misplaced plastic on the street, in nature or via a glowing screen can be at times a discomforting sight. However, there are luckily many solutions to this problem. 

One such solution to plastic waste and pollution is recycling. It’s an act that should be more present in the everyday lives of consumers and business owners alike. In Finland, plastic recycling is evolving and moving forward but yet familiar challenges lie ahead. 

“Plastic packaging has only been collected from consumers in Finland since 2016. It’s a short time to build the processes, so development is still happening,” says Mika Surakka, the CEO of Suomen Uusiomuovi (Finnish Plastics Recycling Ltd.).

While certainly on the right path, Finland has ways to go before reaching the desired target. 

“The challenge is that the plastic package collection rate in 2021 was only 41.4%. In other words, more than half (58.6%) of the plastic packaging does not enter the collection system. Thus, reaching a 50% recycling rate is impossible until the collection rate is higher,” explains Surakka. 

Slow but steady growth

Surakka describes that in Finland, the rate of collection and recycling “have grown slowly” and presented clear numbers which are calculated from non-deposit plastic packaging collection and recycling. With the help of future solutions, it is possible to achieve the desired targets.

“The collection rate in 2021 was 41.40% and in 2020, it was 36.80%. The recycling rate in 2021 was 23.70% and in 2020, 19.87%. Both are calculated from the amount placed on the market. The new commitments of the legislation, i.e. the increase in the number of eco points to 1000 and the collection from properties with five or more apartments, will increase the numbers in the future,” details Surakka. 

Unsurprisingly, improper sorting is still one of the main problems when it comes to common recycling habits. Surakka hopes that more people would be willing to follow the simple sorting instructions available to them. 

“Sorting and collection must be more efficient among consumers and companies. Too many other materials, i.e. pollutants, such as diapers, construction waste and mixed waste, are still collected from plastic packaging bins. The share is about 20% of plastic packaging collected from consumers. Residues and impurities in the packages are not a problem. We hope everyone will be eager to sort and deliver plastic packaging to the collection system and follow the sorting instructions,” says Surakka. 

Plastic recycling misconceptions

According to Surakka, there is one major false notion that still affects Finns and their recycling habits the most. 

“The belief that plastic does not recycle is wrong. At the moment, many types of plastic can be recycled well, and there is more demand for recycled raw material than we can supply,” he says.

“Even smaller flows could be recycled if their volumes could be increased. Therefore, the collection rate must be increased. Currently, the possibilities of finding new recycling channels for packaging that is difficult to recycle, e.g. multi-plastic packaging, are being explored,” continues Surakka. 

A biobased future?

When it comes to biobased materials, such as wood-based Woodly®, Surakka suggests that the future is biobased. The plastic recycling infrastructure can become a lot more versatile, but it requires more volume. 

“I believe that biobased materials will increase in the future. However, it is important to remember that industrial recycling is successful when the volumes of plastic packaging in the stream are significant. Even if the packaging is theoretically recyclable without a significant volume, recycling is not profitable. For each new type of plastic that is wanted for recycling, its own silo must be built in the sorting facility. Therefore, starting to recycle new types of plastic also requires changes to the infrastructure,” concludes Surakka. 

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