A new law on waste in Iceland took effect on 1st of January 2023.
These laws have often been called The circular law (in Icelandic hringrásarlögin), as the aim of these legal changes is to reduce the amount of waste generated and to promote the creation of a recycling society in this country. We need to adapt a new attitude if we wish to create an Icelandic circular economy, by thinking of our waste as a resource we can recycle again and again, not as a material for a landfill.
The legal changes have a wide-ranging impact on the public, municipalities, and workplaces, and these require the participation of all parties in the following cases. But what do these legal changes consist of?
What do these legal changes mean for the public?
– The same sorting system will apply throughout the country, and it will be mandatory to sort waste into at least seven categories: paper, plastic, bio-waste, textile, metals, glass, and hazardous waste.
- Paper, plastic, and organic waste will be collected at households.
- Mixed waste will continue to be collected at households, where many things end up where they do not belong in separately collected waste, e.g., chewing gum, disposable nappies and vacuum cleaner dust bags.
- Textiles, metals, glass, and hazardous waste must be collected in other ways, for example at local stations, with special collection days or other initiatives. In particular, the collection of hazardous waste and electronic devices will be improved. Local authorities must implement the collection of these waste categories in a waste management agreement.
- Landfilling or incinerating specially collected waste will be prohibited, as the goal is to reuse the waste or recycle it.
– The same waste sorting symbols will be used for bins and waste containers throughout the country, which should simplify classification and make it more efficient.
- The Nordic common waste sorting symbols will be used, that FENÚR has translated and localized – see here.
- The symbols can also be found on many products, which shows the recycling category to which the packaging should go after use.
– The local authorities can start collecting fees for waste management according to an usage-pricing model known as Pay as you throw.
- Pay as you throw works in such a way that you pay less for the treatment of waste if you reduce its amount and sort it well for recycling.
- This waste-collection model rewards those who reduce waste and sort better their waste. Those who dispose of more mixed waste or sort it poorly will therefore pay a higher fee in disposal costs.
What do these legal changes mean for workplaces?
– Workplaces must also sort their waste into seven categories: paper, plastic, organic waste, textiles, metals, glass, and hazardous materials.
- As with homes, paper, plastic, organic waste, and mixed waste will be collected at workplaces.
- Workplaces must bring other specially collected waste categories – textiles, metals, glass, and hazardous materials – to collection centers or enter into agreements with service providers for the collection of these waste categories.
– Construction and demolition waste must be sorted into at least the following categories according to the new law: hazardous waste, wood, minerals, metal, glass, plastic and plaster.
- It is expected that, with the increased obligation to recycle this waste, these materials will be used to a greater extent than before within the construction sector.
– A recycling fee will be applied to more packaging, ensuring that manufacturers and importers cover the costs of collecting and recycling packaging.
- With the implementation of the law, packaging made of glass, metals and wood will be subject to a recycling fee. Until now, only packaging made of cardboard and plastic has carried a recycling fee.
- The recycling fee will cover the cost of purchasing recycling bins for this packaging, collection and all their handling for recycling.
- In addition, a recycling fee is expected to cover the cost of cleaning land and shores of littering and furthermore, to ensure public education and information.
The law will come into force at the end of the year, but the implementation of the changes, and the adaptation to them, will last throughout 2023. Many municipalities are well into the process of adapting their systems to the changes in the law, while others are in the process. The municipalities will provide information on the status of implementation and how arrangements will be made, e.g., when you can expect the four categories of waste to be collected at homes.
These legislative changes are an important first step towards a circular economy and part of meeting our commitments in climate mitigation. Now is the time for Icelandic society to try to enforce them. We need to sort waste better so that it can be reused and recycled, use circular thinking in design and product development, make room for reuse markets and, perhaps above all, pay attention everywhere in the process to reduce waste.