Before implementing new plastic bottle legislation, European Commission should review Finland’s longstanding return scheme


The increasing amount of plastic pollution in our oceans and seas is one of the greatest environmental challenges of our time. With such a widespread and global problem, solutions require common legislation.

One achievement of the previous legislature was the conclusion of the Directive 2019/904, which aims to reduce the impact of certain single-use plastic products on Europe’s maritime environment. I will examine this from the perspective of a Member State with a long history of recycling plastic bottles.

Finland is known for its unique deposit-based recycling system. 92 percent of all plastic bottles, together with their caps, are currently recycled. A deposit encourages consumers to return empty bottles and cans for recycling, thus preventing it from ending up in nature or in mixed waste. In return, citizens redeem €280m each year in return pledges.

There are also incentives for companies, as participating in the return system means avoiding packaging tax. First launched in the 1950s with the recycling of glass bottles in the Helsinki Olympics in 1952, the system nowadays recycles virtually all glass bottles in Finland. In 1996, the system started to cover aluminium cans, and in 2008 PET-based bottles.

PALPA, the non-profit company in charge of the return system is owned by large retailers and breweries. In January 2020, I asked the European Commission to clarify a specific conflict between Finland’s recycling system and the new requirements of the Directive on single-use plastic. The problem is that the recently approved Directive requires plastic caps and lids to remain attached to the container during use (Article 6).

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The Parliament Magazine, 18 October 2020