Norway’s radical recycling program is providing unbelievable results: up to 97 percent of the country’s plastic bottles are now recycled. Off the back of this success, other countries are now looking to the Scandi-model and hoping to learn from it.
The success is thanks to the Norwegian government’s environmental taxes that reward companies that are environmentally friendly. Since 2014, all plastic producers and importers are subject to an environmental tax of around 40 cents per bottle. However, the more the company recycles, the lower the tax. If the company managed to recycle over 95 percent of its plastic, then the tax is dropped.
Customers also pay a small “mortgage” on each bottled product they buy. To get back their money, they must deposit their used bottles in one of the 3,700 “mortgage machines” found in supermarkets and convenience stores across the country, which reads the barcode, registers the bottle, and gives them back a coupon.
The scheme is spearheaded by Infinitum, a non-profit organization owned by the companies and organizations in the beverage industry who produce plastic. Any international importer that registers a plastic product for sale in Norway must sign an agreement with Infinitum and join the co-op.
Similar schemes exist in Germany and several US states, such as California, but Norway claims their system is the most in-tune with the scale of the 21st-century's plastic epidemic. In 2017, Infinitum collected over 591 million plastics bottles. Kjell Olav Meldrum, CEO of Infinitum told The Guardian in 2018 the system is so effective that many bottles now in circulation around the country contain material that’s been recycled over 50 times already.
“We are the world’s most efficient system,” Sten Nerland, director of logistics and operations at Infinitum, recently told Positive News. “As an environmental company you might think we should try to avoid plastic, but if you treat it effectively and recycle it, plastic is one of the best products to use: light, malleable, and it’s cheap.”
Meanwhile, the plastic plague continues. Plastic is flowing into the oceans at a rate of around 8 million tonnes every single year. By 2050, if current trends continue, it's estimated that plastic trash in the ocean will outweigh fish.
As the Norwegian model clearly shows, not all hope is lost.
Over the past couples of years, numerous countries have sent representatives to Infinitum in the hopes of learning from the Norwegian model, including Scotland, England, China, India, Kazakhstan, Croatia, France, the Netherlands, Australia, and the US. The UK, for one, has looked to set a similar scheme that will reward consumers for recycling packaging.