The recycling rate of household waste not increasing fast enough

News 2021-03-16 at 16:02
© Kai Widell

The Finnish Environment Institute has published new regional monitoring information about household waste volumes and recycling rates as well as social indicators of circular economy. The recycling rate of household waste is not increasing fast enough. In some municipal areas, a slightly positive trend can be detected, but we must accelerate the rate to meet the EU recycling goals in time.

The volumes of household waste and recycling rates were calculated for ten municipal areas, i.e. Forssa, Hyvinkää, Joensuu, Jyväskylä, Kuopio, Lahti, Lappeenranta, Porvoo, Riihimäki, and Turku. The capital region data produced by Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority HSY, including Vantaa, was also merged in this data.

The volume of household waste has decreased in some municipal areas, but recycling rates are not growing fast enough

The monitoring results indicate that the trend in household waste volumes and recycling rates is taking opposite directions in different areas: waste volumes per resident have increased in some areas but dropped in others.

Household waste volumes decreased in the Hyvinkää, Joensuu, Jyväskylä, Lahti, Riihimäki, Turku and Vantaa areas, meaning that the residents produced less waste at home. In these municipal areas, the amount of household waste decreased by 1–12 per cent, which equals an annual decrease of up to several dozens of kilograms per resident. In the Lahti and Turku municipal areas, the years 2018–2019 were reviewed, whereas the other areas offered data for 2016–2019.

The municipal areas included do not show a significant growth in the recycling rate in 2016–2019, which corresponds to the trend in the recycling of municipal waste in a national level. Recycling rates did rise slightly in the municipal areas of Joensuu, Kuopio, Lahti, Porvoo, Turku, and Vantaa, equalling a growth rate of one to two percentage points.

“We have seen the most significant increase in recycling in the Turku area, whereas in waste volumes, the largest decrease was detected in the Hyvinkää and Riihimäki region. We managed to extend the results coverage with three new municipalities, which means a total of one quarter more compared to the previous reporting round, which was a very positive development”, states Tuuli Myllymaa, Project Manager, Head of Unit, Circwaste project from the Finnish Environmental Institute.

Household waste refers to municipal waste produced at homes, such as biowaste, cardboard, paper, glass, metal, and plastic waste. Household waste is taken to a waste container outside or to a local collection point, waste station or, when returning beverage bottles and cans, a reverse vending machine at a grocery shop.

Separate collection of biowaste grows in several municipal regions

Separate collection of biowaste has a significant impact on the recycling rate, as biowaste is the heaviest of the separately collected waste types. The monitoring results suggest that the separate collection rate of biowaste increased in the Hyvinkää, Jyväskylä, Kuopio, Porvoo, and Riihimäki areas in 2016–2019 and in Lahti and Turku areas in 2018–2019. This type of monitoring did not take place in Vantaa, but HSY does monitor the separate collection of biowaste in the region.

It is a known fact that the ease of recycling has a direct impact on people’s willingness to recycle. This can also be detected in the results to some degree. Of the reviewed areas, all properties in the Lappeenranta and Jyväskylä areas have their own, separate collection of biowaste. In the Hyvinkää, Joensuu, Kuopio, Porvoo and Riihimäki areas, the collection of biowaste is organised in housing companies with at least five households. In the rest of the areas, the collection is mandatory in larger buildings only or there is no obligation at all.

Local solutions needed to achieve recycling goals

The recycling rate of a municipal waste collection point should reach 55 per cent in EU countries by 2025 and 65 per cent by 2035. The recycling rate of municipal waste in Finland stood at 43 per cent in 2019. As there is a long way to go before reaching the goals set to the municipal waste recycling rate, 55 per cent, a lot needs to be done to accelerate the recycling of household waste. The utilisation of data is in a key role in increasing recycling and the promotion of circular economy.

“The importance of regional monitoring will grow in the near future. We need regional solutions and duplicating best practices. It is also important that we identify the developments in other types of municipal waste that is produced at shops, restaurants, offices, schools, and so on”, comments Tiina Karppinen, who is a researcher at the Finnish Environment Institute.

In the studied areas, the household waste volumes decreased or increased only slightly. However, the volumes of municipal waste have increased significantly from 2017 to 2018 according to the municipal waste statistics produced by Statistics Finland. This suggests that the total amount of municipal waste has grown in administration, services and business operations but not as much in the households.

An update of the Waste Act is ongoing and the operators in the field have been eagerly waiting to learn about its new contents, which will significantly affect the practices in the waste management sector. This has also slowed down introduction of new measures to promote recycling during the years covered.

Monitoring in cooperation with the waste management sector

Together with the waste management sector, the Finnish Environment Institute has since 2018 been involved in creating a method for estimating household waste volumes and the development of the recycling rates in different parts of Finland. In this second round of monitoring, the information collected in the previous years has been specified and updated in cooperation with waste facilities to correspond with the most recent data. Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority HSY carries out the monitoring activities in Vantaa as a part of the information retrieval in the HSY area.

Locally, waste monitoring is based on estimates in many respects, so the waste volumes and recycling rates between areas are not comparable at present. There are important differences in the background information of the various areas because the waste management process has been organised in different ways: for example, in how the share of household waste is estimated and how much supplementary collection of recyclable materials takes place. Annual fluctuation can result from the storing and stores being unloaded. These numbers must be seen as estimates that will become more precise.

New indicators for the evaluation of social impacts of circular economy

The transfer to circular economy will mean significant changes in the everyday lives of people. The Finnish Environment Institute has, for the first time, established social indicators of circular economy in Finland. These indicators are used to monitor how easy and available it is to live a sustainable life in a circular economy in different regions, what kind of well-being factors result from the transfer to circular economy and if the well-being is evenly distributed.

“Based on the initial results, Finland has taken steps towards a circular economy also in the social context. Services associated to recycling of waste are made better available to people, education on topics relevant to the circular economy is available in different parts of the country and the circular economy is in a major role in offering work for people in a vulnerable position”, explains Kati Pitkänen, Senior Research Scientist at the Finnish Environment Institute.

The availability of collection points and recycled materials still varies significantly in different areas in Finland. In some rural areas, you have to drive a car to take the waste to recycling points.

Discover the indicators

Social indicators:

Circwaste – Towards circular economy

The Finnish Environment Institute is the coordinator of the Circwaste – Towards circular economy project. Part of the EU Life programme, this seven-year project’s budget totals almost 19 million Euros. The goal of the project is to promote circular economy with practical measures in construction, agriculture, industry, food chains and homes. The most efficient hands-on practices for boosting circular economy will be identified in the project. The municipalities involved in the study have been selected among the Circwaste pioneer municipalities and the Fisu (Finnish sustainable communities) network.

Sources: Waste facilities (Waste Management in South-Carelia, Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority HSY, Jätekukko Oy, Kiertokapula Oy, Loimi-Hämeen Jätehuolto Oy, Lounais-Suomen Jätehuolto Oy, Mustankorkea Oy, Puhas Oy, Päijät-Häme Waste Management Oy and Rosk’n Roll Oy Ab), Finnish Packaging Recycling RINKI Ltd, Suomen palautuspakkaus Oy Palpa, Statistics Finland, and Pirkanmaa Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment.

The Circwaste project receives funding from EU for the production of project materials. The views indicated in the materials represent the views of the project, and the European Commission takes no responsibility of them.


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