Sorting of household waste in rural areas improved in North Karelia

Press release 2022-05-12 at 9:07
A waste sorting point in the Timanttikylät villages © Reeta Rönkkö

The raising of awareness, resident cooperation and improvement of waste management infrastructure have improved waste sorting and reduced the amount of mixed waste in villages in North Karelia.

The WasteLess Karelias project developed waste sorting in rural villages in North Karelia between 2018 and 2022. The villages improved their waste-related infrastructure and organised village evenings, events and clean-up days, where ways of promoting waste sorting were developed together with the villagers. Two target areas participated in the project: The Timanttikylät group of villages in Juuka, and Mekrijärvi in Ilomantsi.

The villages became more active in sorting waste and the volume of mixed waste decreased

As measures of the project, a waste sorting point was built in the Timanttikylät villages through volunteer work. The waste company brought metal and glass collection containers to Mekrijärvi and replaced the old containers of the village’s regional collection point with lockable deep collection containers. In addition, shared waste disposal between a few households was set up in both sets of villages. The project also looked at where recyclable waste from households in the Timanttikylät villages ends up for further processing into recycled materials and products.

The impact of the measures implemented in the villages was measured through resident surveys at the beginning and end of the project. According to the results, waste sorting increased in the villages during the monitoring period. The share of households recycling waste rose from 89 per cent to 94 per cent and the volume of mixed waste decreased. At the end of the project, households in the Timanttikylät villages generated on average one plastic bag less of mixed waste per week than before.

The share of households’ recycling plastics grew significantly: previously, 43 per cent of respondents put plastics in mixed waste, and at the end of the project, only 24 per cent did so. In the villages, paper and cardboard no longer end up in mixed waste at all.

According to the respondents, the availability and accessibility of recycling points improved significantly in both sets of villages. At the beginning of the project, 59 per cent considered accessibility to be good, whereas at the end of the project, 90 per cent of the respondents thought so. The condition of the recycling points was also considered to be better than before and littering was still seen to be relatively low.

Grassroots cooperation and participation spurred change

The project showed that the participation and interest of residents in environmental issues also leads to concrete results. Especially in the Timanttikylät villages, the residents started to develop recycling themselves.

“The main thing was that we were able to get the residents of the village interested in the matter and to make promotion of recycling an important part of the daily life of the village. Getting a few key people who were passionate about the issue involved was crucial because they also acted as inspiration for other villagers. Events highlighting the importance of recycling were also essential to the success of the project,” says village developer Reeta Rönkkö from the Association for Rural Culture and Education.

According to the survey, the village's environmental awareness and interest in recycling increased during the project. An increasing number of villagers now feel that it is possible to reduce the amount of waste generated.

“According to the respondents, financial gain was initially the most significant incentive for waste sorting, but its importance declined during the project. Instead, information about where sorted waste ends up is an increasingly important incentive for residents,” says Assistant Researcher Elli Schubin from the Finnish Environment Institute.

Improved recycling reduced climate emissions

Consumers can significantly reduce their carbon footprint resulting from waste by properly sorting and recycling waste. The climate impact of the measures taken in the Timanttikylät villages was assessed by means of emissions calculation.

In 2021, an estimated 246 kg of cardboard packaging, 350 kg of metal, 480 kg of glass packaging and 96 kg of plastic packaging were collected through the Timanttikylät waste collection point for recovery.

The recycling of these quantities of materials reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 800 kg CO2e compared to what would have resulted from the combustion of the materials. This is equivalent to driving approximately 5440 km in a car.

Recycling needs to be further improved

The recycling rate of municipal waste – waste generated by households and services – should reach 55 per cent in EU countries by 2025 and 65 per cent by 2035. The recycling rate of municipal waste in Finland stood at 42 per cent in 2020. Since there is still a long way to go, all the work to make recycling and sorting more efficient is important. The results of the WasteLess Karelias project show that involving residents in the development of sorting waste and highlighting the benefits of sorting help to make recycling more efficient.

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Further information 

  • Village developer Reeta Rönkkö, Association for Rural Culture and Education, tel. +358 (0)50 326 7889, (village activities)
  • Assistant Researcher Elli Schubin, Finnish Environment Institute SYKE, tel. +358 (0)29 525 1218, (survey results)
  • Senior Research Scientist Johanna Niemistö, Finnish Environment Institute SYKE, tel. +358 (0)295 251 835 (climate emissions)

The investigation was part of the WasteLess Karelias project, which aims to improve sorting and waste management in the rural villages of North Karelia and the Republic of Karelia in Russia. The project encourages local residents, authorities and companies to develop waste recycling and the rural environment together. In addition to the activities carried out in the target villages, the project has raised awareness of sorting, recycling and littering through art and collaborative work. The project has organised waste workshops and science theatre for children and schoolchildren, gathered people to make art from waste during waste art workshops, and will also host a marketplace event. The project is being led by the University of Eastern Finland (UEF) and carried out in collaboration with the Association for Rural Culture and Education (MSL) and the Finnish Environment Institute SYKE.

The project has been funded by the Karelia CBC programme.