Waste sorting in the Vaasa region

In the Vaasa region, Finland the waste sorting system is one of the most advanced in the world. It is maintained by Stormossen (ASJ) Ltd. The waste handling fee includes all this for private persons. The region includes Vaasa, Mustasaari, Isokyrö, Vähäkyrö, Maalahti, Korsnäs, Vöyri and Maksamaa. Europe's largest bioreactor is in the Stormossen waste treatment plant.

Function: Too small clothes, useless household appliances

First and foremost, is the waste really waste? For example, clothes are the best in this category. If a shirt is just too old or small for me, but otherwise OK, first I examine whether someone else in my family, a friend or a relative wants to wear it. If they don't, I put into a bag, which is given to the Salvation Army when it's full of old clothes. There is a trapdoor for giving clothes in their building in the city. Plastic bags need not the be thrown away each time you return from the store. They can be reused.

Another type of non-waste are the wooden truck pallets, which have a forfeit of 1.00 euro. Also, many companies keep track of how many pallets other companies have taken from them.

Functionality: Candy boxes, worn clothes

Then, does the waste have a use? You can use candy boxes, Pringles tubes etc. in many creative ways. Cotton clothes can be used as rags for cleaning the floor. Parquet floors are effectively cleaned by spraying the floor moist and wiping the moisture away. The rag used for this usually gathers so much dust, hair and random litter that it can't be reused. Paper isn't strong enough. So, it's better that the rag is already waste, if it has to be thrown away. Another thing is that the plastic bags you get from the store are used as garbage bags, because they have handles from which you can tie them shut. Everyone does this.

Standard recycling with forfeit: Bottles and cans

Is there a standard recycling system for the waste? Empty plastic and glass bottles and aluminum cans can be of the standard type, which have a small forfeit price of 0.10-1.00 euro. This is included in the price, and you'll get it back when you return the bottle to a returning machine in a store. The smallest forfeit is 0.10 e for a small 0.33-liter glass bottle, the highest is 1.00 for a 2-liter Broström beer bottle. I collect the cans and bottles, and return them to the store. Once I got about 12 euro back. Alko also takes their bottles back with a small forfeit. Standard bottles are reused. Standard aluminum cans are crushed and their aluminum is used as a raw material. Even if the bottle is not standard and has no forfeit, I return it. If a glass bottle is not reused, it will be crushed and melted to make glass wool.

Types of actual waste

Now that the waste is really waste, let's see which categories they are sorted. Each house must have at least two dumpsters for kitchen and coarse waste. It is very important that there is no "mixed" or "general" container. You have to make at least one choice. Each compound must have a complete set of dumpsters for different types of waste. These kind of waste collection points are also placed here and there for those who have only two dumpsters.

The types of waste that are collected separately:

  • Metal
  • Glass
  • Paper
  • Kitchen waste
  • Dry coarse waste
  • Broken or obsolete electronics
Special waste, or optional types of sorting waste:

Metal, glass and paper

Metal waste includes empty tins, broken metal tools, bolts, etc. It is melted and reused as raw material. This cannot be done for electronic devices, so they are not included in metal waste.

Glass is other glass than standard glass bottles. If empty jam jars cannot be reused by storing jam or pickled food, then they belong to the glass container. The glass is made into glass wool. There are even more elaborate sorting containers in some waste collection points, like in Prisma: a container for clear, brown and green glass. Window glass is building waste and should be carried separately to Stormossen, if you just removed all your old windows when installing new ones. Window glass has a different, more difficult composition than regular glass. It can be layered, for example. It belongs to coarse waste in small amounts.

Paper dumpsters are green. I think it was the first type which was separated from other waste back in 1980's. Paper waste includes only clean paper. Snailmail spam, bureaucracy waste, newspapers, etc. go here. Cardboard is different from paper, and it doesn't belong here. More on cardboard later. The paper dumpster is very clean, but never try to sleep or play in it. In Sweden, two kids went to play in a large paper dumpster, and they were crushed in the trash compactor of a collection truck.

Kitchen waste

Understanding the difference between coarse and kitchen waste (keittiöjäte) is cornerstone of waste sorting. If you don't compost, leftovers and rotten food go here. Diapers and plastic or cardboard food containers, including juice and milk jars, go to kitchen waste. Polyethene packaging is the most common. Kitchen waste is not dry and it smells. This accounts for the bad smell of the landfill.

In Stormossen, kitchen waste is ground and separated to compostable and combustible parts. Compostable waste is fed into a large bioreactor, which digests the waste in an anaerobic environment and produces biogas. Biogas is 65% methane and 35% carbon dioxide, so it is used as a fuel to heat Botniahalli. The combustible part is transported to Pietarsaari, where Ewapower Ltd. pellets it, and then it ends up into a power plant.

Coarse waste

Coarse waste (karkeajäte) is the second largest category. This waste is dry, and it doesn't smell. Burnt or broken household appliances, cardboard, PVC and other hard plastics, random pieces of wood, etc. are coarse waste. Curiously, old smoke detectors can be put in coarse waste, even if they contain radioactive americium. (Although it's a transuranium, it radiates only a little of alpha radiation and it's harmful only if swallowed or breathed in.) Building waste, including windows glass can be put in as coarse waste. By definition, coarse waste is useless and is buried to the landfill.

Cardboard and milk jars

Few waste collection points have containers to which you can return clean cardboard, and other containers for milk jars. There's one in Prisma. Milk jars have to be washed, so that they don't smell, and one milk jar is to be stuffed full of other milk jars. They're recycled as plastic and cardboard.

Somewhere in Norway there is a clever system: write your name and contact information to a complete jar. Officials pick one at random from a pile, and the person who gave the jars in will win a "lottery prize". Unfortunately, Finnish officials refuse to even consider this.

Compostable waste

Compostable waste can be put into your own compost, but there is no centralised system for collecting it in here. All remains of food made of plants, like peels and leftovers, can be composted easily, including coffee filters. Eggshells are compostable too. Contrary to popular belief, a compost does not smell bad, but it needs to have the right temperature, humidity and ventilation. In these conditions, decay is mostly due to odorless bacteria and fungi, so the compost smells of fungi, not rotten. Meat and bones are not suitable for composting, because meat will smell rotten, and bones take ages to decay.

Toxic waste

Toxic waste has to be carried separately to Stormossen or given to an Ekobiili truck, which visits different places in the region now and then. Batteries are an exception: there is a small box from them in a waste collection point. As far as I know, really toxic waste is transported to the toxic waste treatment plant in Riihimäki. Toxic waste includes:

Old, useless household appliances go to the recycling center, EkoCenter, which sells them, in parts or as a whole at a low price. Old computers, screens, televisions and refridgerators are best brought here, because they contain lead, gold, bromium, freons, etc. These valuable or toxic materials are separately extracted in EkoCenter. Only plastics end up in a landfill, because they contain chemicals that make them fire proof and thus not combustible.

Special waste

Bulk amounts of any single type of waste are best to be brought directly to Stormossen. Building sites produce an enormous amount of wooden waste. Stormossen collects this, grinds it to flakes and sells it to a pellet factory in Pietarsaari. They compress the flakes to wood pellets, which is excellent fuel for heating. Stormossen takes whole cars, provided that all fluids are removed, for the fee of about 20 euro.

Does this work?

Yes. People have understood that waste sorting is easy and doesn't take much effort. It keeps our own place of dwelling clean. The most important thing is to keep rotting and dry waste separate. The cornerstone of waste sorting is that the local government is interested and supports the use of advanced waste treatment. The waste collecting company Korsholms Renhållning and Stormossen are owned by the aforementioned municipalities.

I have seen the Stormossen many times. The wood pile contained few useful planks, but it didn't smell. The coarse waste pile didn't smell either. The metal waste pile smelled, as there were empty tins. There were stuff in the coarse waste pile that could've been sold! A couple with a white Mercedes got there first and left with an undamaged couch and other furniture. A rich man is a poor man with a lot of money...

Avfallservice Stormossen Jätehuolto. This site contains complete instructions for sorting and other information in English. http://www.asj.fi/

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