Fjord focus: successful recycling systems in Norway

Norway recycling
© iStock/rusm

An industry-led recycling scheme in Norway has led to a 97 per cent rate of bottle recycling.

Norway operates a system of adding a deposit to the cost of recyclable bottles, which is then reimbursed when consumers return their packaging over the counter or to reverse vending machines. The machines, which were introduced in 1972, accept bottles and cans in exchange for supermarket vouchers or cash; and are operated by Infinitum, a private not-for-profit organisation owned by retailers and manufacturers.

Norway’s reverse vending machines only accept bottles of specific sizes with approved labels to facilitate recycling. In contrast with British roadside recycling systems, which experience a good deal of misfiled rubbish, this leads to a very low rate of material contamination.

Similar reverse vending machines have been trialled in Scotland and a pilot scheme is currently ongoing in selected British branches of Tesco. Britain previously operated a basic deposit return scheme on glass bottles, which was phased out through the 1980s as plastic bottles became more prevalent.

Plastic bottle manufacturing companies in Norway pay an environmental tax which decreases the more they recycle; if they recycle more than 95 per cent of their materials the tax is waived entirely.

In early 2018 a ministerial delegation from the UK visited Norway to examine the possibility of importing a similar system – Britons currently recycle around 46 per cent of their plastic packaging. Meanwhile fewer than one per cent of plastic bottles in Norway find their way into the environment; and it is believed some bottles have been recycled and remade into new bottles up to 50 times.

In addition to protecting the environment and reducing waste, the scheme has had a positive effect on littering, drastically reducing the amount of plastic that appears in Norway’s landfills, streets and beaches.

Germany adopted a similar system to Norway’s in 2002, adding in automatic collection points as well as reverse vending machines and manned collection counters. It now has a 98.5 per cent bottle recycling rate, the highest in the world.

On Wednesday the European Environment and Public Health Committee voted to approve stricter regulations on single-use plastics, recommending that plastic bottles should have a recycling rate of 90 per cent across the EU by 2025.

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