Norway is setting an example in the fight against plastic, one bottle at a time

FETSUND: One at a time, the old woman places her voids in the hole of a machine at the entrance of one. With a deposit system that works well, almost everyone.

You have to get rid of them, so you can also do it intelligently, says the 70-year-old woman, while the machine spits a bar code ticket that entitles 30 crowns ($ 3.25) in cash or credit at the checkout .

With its 97% recycling rate, Norway is 10 years ahead of the EU target date for 2029, when countries must recycle at least 90% of their bottles. That compares with just 60% in France and the United Kingdom, which is considering a deposit system.

The deposit system is widely seen as the key to the success of the Nordic country. Customers pay an extra penny when they buy a drink in a plastic bottle, and they are reimbursed that amount when they return their empty spaces.

When you have a deposit in empty containers, you actually tell consumers that they buy the product but that they borrow the packaging, explains Kjell Olav Maldum, director of Infinitum, a company created by manufacturers and distributors to execute the deposit scheme.

The concept of return of containers has been extended so much that there is even a verb for it: a pante. As an additional benefit, reverse vending machines offer customers the option of using their reimbursement to purchase a lottery ticket that benefits the charity.

In 2018, more than 1.1 billion plastic bottles and aluminum cans were returned. In Fetsund, about 30 km northeast of Oslo, a constant flow of trucks throws thousands of containers at the same time at the main processing center of Infinitum.

Jumping on the conveyor belts, plastic bottles that once contained water, juice or soft drinks are sorted, compacted and placed on pallets that resemble huge colorful Rubik's buckets, destined for a second life after recycling.

Each new plastic bottle contains about 10% recycled materials, a level that the country expects to increase with a level that encourages manufacturers to use recycled plastic instead of new plastic, which is currently cheaper.