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Waste and recycling

Discarded materials and products become waste when they are no longer suitable for use. Waste is usually generated, at least to some extent, at every stage of the production chain, from the extraction of raw materials and the manufacturing of products to consumption and waste treatment. In Finland, the amount of waste is linked to the development of economic cycles: more waste is generated during periods of upturn than during downturns.
A waste conveyor belt.
© Adobe Stock

The largest volume of waste is generated in the mining industries and construction sectors which handle large quantities of materials. According to Statistics Finland's waste statistics, around 116 million tonnes of waste were generated in Finland in 2019. Municipal solid waste refers to waste generated in households and waste of similar quality that may be generated in public services, shops and offices. According to Statistics Finland, the amount of municipal waste has increased in recent years, and in 2020 we were already generating nearly 600 kg of waste per inhabitant. 

In a circular economy, the generation of waste is avoided by careful product design, reuse of products and by extending the service life of products by repairing and maintaining them. Waste returns as a part of production safely and sustainably. In addition to saving natural resources, waste recycling aims to save energy and reduce negative environmental and climate impacts. Reducing the use of raw materials also contributes to saving biodiversity.

From waste to raw material

Waste is a valuable source of raw materials. Some waste materials, such as metals, are particularly valuable and recycled on the conditions of the market. Waste is part of the global raw material market and is transported from one country to another for utilisation. Sorting increases the value of waste, as it is easier to recycle waste materials collected separately. Unsorted waste is often difficult to use as a material.

There is still room for improvement in the recovery of waste materials

However, demand and cost-effective recycling solutions do not yet exist for all waste. Moreover, products are not always designed for recycling. For example, mixtures of several materials can pose a challenge to the recycling system. In some cases, the recycling of waste may also cause harmful environmental impacts. In this case, less harmful solution must be sought. Waste management alternatives can be compared, for example, by means of waste management life cycle calculations, in order to choose the most favourable option.

Safe and sustainable recycling of waste requires knowledge and expertise, such as product design, data management and high-quality material identification and separation technology. It also requires sharing information between actors.

Promoting recycling is the responsibility of all waste producers. Environmental administration steers, supervises, monitors, produces information and develops more sustainable solutions for recycling waste. Strong EU waste legislation to promote the circular economy and waste recycling aims to protect human health and the environment.


Finnish Environment Institute (Syke)