Everyday circular economy is not easily achieved across the country

2020-06-29 Tiina Karppinen and Kati Pitkänen

The transition to a circular economy is a major social upheaval that has an impact on people’s lives. However, little is known about these impacts. Many people are concerned about the state of the environment and consider it important to make environmentally friendly choices every day. However, residence affects the ability to live in a more environmentally friendly way.

Sorting in households plays a key role in achieving recycling targets

Improving the sorting of household waste is key to meeting Europe's tightening recycling targets. By their own actions, households and citizens can help keep waste to a minimum and sort waste efficiently so that it can be recycled.

Studies show that household sorting behaviour is influenced by both individual personal habits and experiences and external factors such as financial incentives and the ease of recycling. One of the most significant factors is the accessibility of sorted waste collection points. Are there collection points available in your area and how far is it to the nearest point from home? Is the waste easy to recycle on an evening walk or a trip to work, or is the nearest point so far away that a car is needed to reach it?

The service level of waste management and sorting possibilities are provided by legislation. For example, glass, metal and fibre packaging waste must have a collection point in each agglomeration of more than 500 residents and a plastic packaging waste collection point in an agglomeration of more than 10,000 residents. The network of these separate collection points should cover the whole country and the points should be evenly distributed by region, taking into account the population density. They should also be located in easily accessible places, such as next to grocery stores and near services, or along commonly used routes. The network of separate collection points has been significantly expanded in recent years, especially with regard to the collection of plastic packaging waste.

The accessibility of plastic collection points varies between regions

The availability of separate waste collection points varies between different residential areas, municipalities and regions. For example, the network of regional collection points for plastic packaging waste is densest in urban areas and large agglomerations with the highest number of people. Most of the packaging waste is also generated there. In recent years, the collection of plastic packaging waste directly from properties has also increased sharply. Today, in many areas, you can get a plastic packaging waste collection container for your own backyard. In a couple of years, the reform of the Waste Act will bring plastic packaging waste collection containers to larger residential and commercial properties in agglomerations across the country.

In some parts of the country, long distances and the lack of collection points can significantly complicate sorting. Finding a collection point where one lives encourages sorting. In interviews the WasteLess project conducted in the villages of North Karelia, rural residents raised the issue of improving accessibility to collection points as the most important factor that would encourage better sorting of waste. Many of those interviewed were enthusiastic about sorting after a plastic packaging waste collection point was set up in a village nearby. Often, the possibility of taking plastic packaging for collection encourages the transport of other waste materials to the same collection point.

Nowadays, 57 per cent of Finns live no more than two kilometres from a separate collection point for plastic packaging waste. The most accessible collection points are for residents of the provinces of South-Eastern, Southern and South-Western Finland. Elsewhere in Finland, the majority of the population lives more than two kilometres from a collection point and has to use a car when transporting their sorted plastic packaging waste.

Taking out the sorted waste by a gas-operated or an electric car?

Extending the collection network to sparsely populated areas may increase transport emissions. On the other hand, emissions also occur if people have to transport their sorted waste by car for long distances. So far, in the same living areas where you need a car to transport waste, alternative car propulsion forces such as electricity and gas are not comprehensively available.

Road traffic accounts for a quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions of Finnish municipalities. It is important to favour mobility and public transport. However, this is not always possible in all areas, for example, due to long distances and lack of public transport. Using less environmentally damaging driving forces, such as biogas and electricity, is one way to reduce traffic emissions.

Gas filling stations and electric car charging points do not yet exist throughout Finland. Gas filling stations are concentrated in southern Finland, within reach of the gas transmission network. Outside the network, biogas is distributed especially in those locations that have a waste biogas plant. In Eastern and Northern Finland, driving with a biogas-operated car everyday is not yet possible.

The network of public charging points for electric cars covers a much larger part of the country than the network of gas filling stations. Accessibility of charging stations is best in the southwestern regions of the country and weakest in Northern and Eastern Finland. However, charging points can be found in each region.

The Circwaste project monitors the progress of the circular economy in the daily lives of households

The Circwaste project is developing indicators for the regional monitoring of the social impact and conditions of the circular economy. In the project, we are monitoring the development of the accessibility of, among other things, the collection points for plastic packaging waste, disposal textiles, electrical and electronic equipment, as well as gas filling stations for gas-operated cars and charging points for electric cars.

Tiina Karppinen

Researcher Tiina Karppinen, Finnish Environment Institute

Kati Pitkänen

Senior Researcher Kati Pitkänen, Finnish Environment Institute

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