It’s no longer news anymore – plastic is a menace and we need to deal with it. As of now, tons of plastic are being produced all over the world, and as a consequence, tons are getting disposed of too. It needs to be lowered if we want this planet to survive. But it’s not an easy task. While we might say pollution is bad and we need to put a stop to it, we can’t say the same about plastic. This cheap product has played a major role in the advancement of human civilizations and we still haven’t found cheaper and feasible replacements for plastic. Ideas are floating out there but nothing concrete has manifested yet. The best way we can deal with this issue is by recycling plastic.
Norway understood this problem a long time ago. The country which almost always stays among the top 10 ‘happiest countries’ in the world knew that plastic is malleable, light, cheap, and extremely useful to simply ban it. Rather, they could incentivize people and companies in such a way that encourages them to dispose of plastic in a better way so that it could be recycled.
The plan was simple. Since 2014, the government of Norway imposed an environmental tax on every plastic importer and producer, marked at 40 cents per bottle. Now, these producers are generating millions of bottles per year – so the math makes the final tax amount huge. But the Norway government also offers a way out. If a company engages in active recycling of plastic products, then the tax starts to get lower. Once the company recycles about 95% of the plastic, the tax is completely dropped.
The Norway government has not forgotten the role of citizens either. Citizens play a major role in both the creation of plastic waste as well as its management. So, it is up to the government to encourage them to do the right thing. In Norway, when a citizen buys a bottled product, they have to pay a ‘mortgage’. Of course, they can get back their mortgage – they just have to deposit the used bottle in any one of the 3,700 mortgage machines found in convenience stores and markets all over the country. These mortgage machines analyze the barcode and then the bottle is registered. It gives a coupon back to the customer.
It is quite an efficient system which is controlled by a non-profit organization called Infinitum. Quite surprisingly, this organization is owned by organizations and companies that are in the beverage industry and produce plastic themselves. So, they are pretty responsible about it. If any international importer wants to sell their plastic products in Norway, they have to sign an agreement with the organization and join them.
It’s not like this is the only country that is taking such a step towards plastic waste creation. Similar schemes are also present in Germany as well as in California, along with some other states in the US. But this system has been the most effective, as mentioned in Positive News by Stan Nerland, the director of logistics at Infinitum. As of 2017, it was seen that Infinitum had collected above 591 million plastic bottles. The CEO of the organization, Kjell Olav Meldrum, mentioned to The Guardian back in 2018 that because of their effective system, many of the bottles circulating in the hands of the people of Norway are actually made of recycled plastic. About 97% of the plastic present in Norway is being recycled!
The situation of plastic in the world as of now is dire. About 8 million tons of plastic is being released into the ocean every year and if this rate continues, then by 2050, plastic products will be outweighing fish population in the water bodies. Norway’s model provides hope. And numerous countries are also looking forward to start similar models. The UK wants to set up such a scheme where consumers are rewarded for their part in recycling plastic. Representatives from countries like US, China, Canada, France, Croatia, Kazakhstan, India and others have visited Norway to gain more insight.
If the countries join together to help us in this fight, then we still have some hope of winning this war against plastic. But we should not forget our individual roles in this war and remain conscious of the waste we are generating.
IMAGE CREDIT: Josep Curto