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Municipal solid waste

Waste management in Finland 

In 10 years Finland has cut in half the amount of waste ending up in landfills. In order to do that, Finland had to not only change the legislation, but create a whole new industry. Special attention has been paid to environmental education.

Today, we speak more and more about circular economy.

In the next 10 years the recycling of municipal waste should gradually rise to 65 percent, which means an increase of almost 25 percent from the present recycling rate.

In the circular system, a sustainable use of natural resources is secured by keeping the products and materials in use and maintaining their value for as long as possible. When products reach the end of their lifecycle, the materials return to the cycle or become part of new products, while less waste is produced. As such, waste is treated as a valuable resource.

Circular economy approach provides an excellent foundation for development of industrial symbioses. Some of the most advanced ecologic industrial parks were developed and work in Finland that have specialized in concept building and utilization of best available technologies.

Some facts of the Finnish waste management 

Municipal waste forms only about 2,5 % of all the waste generated in Finland. In 2017 ca. 117 million tonnes of waste was generated in Finland, of which only 2,8 million tonnes was classified as municipal waste (ca. 500 kg per person).

Composition of municipal solid waste:

Source: KIVO,


Disposal of municipal waste in landfill sites has shown a decreasing trend for last 10 years. Today, the recycling rate is 42 %, and 55 % of waste is used for energy production. EU has set very ambitious recycling target: 50 % of waste should be recycled already by the end of this year, 55 % by 2025 and 65 % by 2025.

Source: Statistics Finland,

Legislation & instruments

Today’s waste management is based on the Waste Act that came into force in 1994, and Finland’s accession to the European Union. This is when much stricter regulation of waste management started.

Currently, Finnish waste legislation is largely based on EU legislation, but in some cases stricter.

Finnish waste legislation covers all wastes except certain special types of waste, such as radioactive wastes.

Producer responsibility

In Finland, producer responsibility has been used as a steering instrument of environmental policy since 1996. Producer responsibility means that the manufactures and importers of products have the obligation to organise waste management at their own cost when products are removed from use. Producer responsibility is an obligation laid down by the Waste Act, and a charge may be imposed if it is neglected.

Products covered by producer responsibility include paper products, packaging materials, electric and electronic devices, batteries and accumulators, and vehicles and their tyres.

Deposit-refund system

A significant percentage of the producer responsibility associated with packages is realised through the deposit-refund systems for beverage packaging. Deposit-refund systems for beverage packaging have a long history in Finland.

The first refund system for refillable glass bottles where a deposit was included in the price was introduced as early as in the 1950s. Since then, there has been a considerable increase in the different types of beverage packages and materials used for them that are covered by the deposit-refund system.

A little over a decade ago, in 2008, recyclable plastic bottled where included in the system, which so far had covered metal cans and refillable glass and plastic bottles. The incentive for packaging producers to join the deposit-refund system is that they do not have to pay excise duties for certain beverage packaging products.

Today, the system covers a broad range of packaging products for alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and juices. It also offers an effective and positive way to encourage consumers to return high-quality materials to be recycled or reused.

The return rates are indeed very high: in 2018 as much as 95 percent of metal beverage cans, 90 percent of plastic bottles, 88 percent of recyclable glass bottles, and almost 100 percent of refillable glass bottles were returned.

Read more about glass recycling business-model >>>

Responsibilities in the waste management

According to waste legislation, the owner and producer of the waste is responsible for its rightful treatment. That is a person, owner of the property or a company. The only exceptions are waste belonging under legislation on producer responsibility and waste managed by municipality.

Municipality is responsible to organize waste management for communal/ municipal solid waste as well as for waste, that is generated by the municipal organizations. In addition, it is the responsibility of municipality to organize separate collection and processing for dangerous waste generated by the households. Municipality also has a secondary responsibility over waste management in situations when there is no service available on the market.

As individual municipalities were too small to cope with the rapidly tightening requirements, so the regional waste management companies started to be set up in different parts of Finland, in cooperation between several municipalities. In practice, municipalities outsourced waste management services to these companies.

Today, we have a total of 33 waste management companies owned by municipalities or municipal federations, serving over 90 % of the populaiton.

Municipal waste treatment plants are important players in the transformation of the municipal waste management sector. The progress has been fast, especially in recent years. The local governments have made investments and launched calls for tenders concerning their operations. Besides using waste for energy, the focus in municipal waste management has been on promoting composting and digestion. Biological treatment has about doubled since 2006. The change is mostly due to more efficient at-source sorting and separate collection of biowaste.


In the beginning of the 1990s we still had almost 2,000 landfill sites. Towards the end of the 1990s and after the year 2000 this number decreased rapidly due to the EU and national legislation on landfills.

The tax on waste taken to landfills was introduced in 2010 and the current amout is 70 euros for one ton of waste taken to a landfill.

The ban on landfilling organic and plastic waste that came into force in 2016 has dramatically reduced the amount of municipal waste ending up in landfills and increased especially the use of waste for energy in incineration plants.

In 2016 there were:

  • 115 landfills for non-dangerous waste
  • 35 landfills for dangerous waste
  • 164 landfills for soil

Over half of the landfills are owned by the government, others are privately owned by industrial companies.

Biogas is collected from 40 landfills and is primarily used for heat generation.

Today, only 0,7 % of all the waste in Finland end up in landfill

Towards Circular Economy

Finland has published the world’s first national road map to a circular economy in autumn 2016. The road map’s second edition updates Finland’s plans to reform its economic model to ensure successful sustainability. More information >>>

Programme of the Government emphasizes the importance of circular economy. More information >>>

The National Waste Plan”From Recycling to a Circular Economy” is the strategic plan adopted by the Government laying down the objectives and measures for waste management and prevention in Finland to 2023. It is important instrument that guides the development of waste management sector. Detailed targets are set and measures presented for four key areas: construction and demolition waste, biodegradable waste, municipal waste, and waste electrical and electronic equipment.

Waste Plan presents the long-term target state to 2030 for waste management and waste prevention:

  • High standard waste management is part of the sustainable circular economy.
  • Material-efficient production and consumption save natural resources and mitigate climate change.
  • Volumes of waste have decreased from the present. Reuse and recycling have risen to a new level.
  • Recycling market works well. Reuse and recycling create new jobs.
  • Valuable raw materials present at low levels are also recovered from recycled materials.
  • Material cycles are innocuous and less and less hazardous substances are used in the production.
  • In the waste sector there is high-quality research and experiments and competence in waste issues is at a high level.

More information about National Waste Plan >>>


Finnish tools designed to motivate recycling in a nutshell:

  • waste tax
  • prohibition to landfill organic and plastic waste
  • waste management fee collected from citizens depends on container size and filling rate
  • producer responsibility on packages, paper, electronics, batteries and accumulators, tyres and vehicles
  • deposit system for beverage bottles
  • requirement to collect separately paper, cardboard, glass, metal, plastic, biowaste and waste under producer responsibility
  • special separate collection requirements for households with more than 5 apartments
  • free of charge system for collection of hazardous waste
  • environmental education campaigns