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Norway’s plastic bottle recycling

Written By: - Date published: 8:00 am, August 28th, 2018 - 16 comments
Categories: Conservation, Environment, Europe, International, sustainability - Tags:

I’m not sure how many plastic bottles we all go through per week, but I would like my milk in glass bottles please.

In the meantime I’d like to know what our next step in waste minimisation is.

Norway is a good example.

Granted it’s a wee tad rich to praise Norway for plastic recycling when they have been one of the largest producers of the mineral oil that makes plastics worldwide.


Norway is now seriously in need of more rubbish.

This shortage of rubbish is partly caused by a lack of trashed plastic bottles. Back in July the Guardian profiled Infinitum, the organisation responsible for Norway’s deposit scheme for plastic bottles and cans. 97% of all plastic drinks bottles are now recycled, 92% to such a high standard that they are turned back into drinks bottles.

It’s great that we are addressing single-use plastic bags, but in overall recycling, New Zealand doesn’t rank inside the top 25 countries in the world.

The New Zealand NGO New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development has acres of good advice that has been around for a while on recycling.

In July 2018 Councils across New Zealand called for an increase to the $10 waste disposal levy charged on every tonnes of rubbish disposed in landfills – it’s one of the lowest levies in the world. Australians waste levies are up to $133 per tonne, the U.K. charges $160, and in Europe it’s $300 per tonne. There’s not a lot of motivation here.

There’s a big review on the national waste strategy due for 2020 that might alter the waste levies, but don’t hold your breath. Waste and recycling contracts are really hard to break, so it would take really tough and determined government action to pull New Zealand out of this.

I suspect, like single-use plastic bags, campaigners will grind ahead retailer by retailer and year by year until so many large chains adopt it that making any required legislative or regulatory change is a bit of a doddle. Several years.

In short, bringing glass bottle refunds back to New Zealand is going to be consumer led, not government led.

Norway’s radical approach is to attach a deposit value of between 15 and 30 cents to each plastic bottle, to be redeemed when returned. This is then recycled into textiles, packaging, and indeed new plastic bottles.

You may, if you’re like me and have a bit of grey hair around, still remember a time where the milkman of human kindness was delivered straight to your door, paid for by milk tokens, and you delivered back a set of empty ones in a little white wire rack. These were returned, sterilized, and used by some other lucky citizen the next day.

There is now one tiny New Zealand milk company that now sells its milk in glass bottles, not plastic.


However they are supplying to FarrowFresh and MooreWilsons, not the Countdown and Pak n Save customers of this world.

Also there’s no sign yet of a refund for returning the clean glass ones back. In California and Vermont you still can, but nearly 1,000 centres where you could return bottles for nickels have closed over the past two years – that’s about 40% of them.

Nor does it help that 500mls of Antipodes water may well come in glass, but it’s about the most expensive and premium water you can get.

It’s probably going to stay that way without major market tilting. Minister Eugenie Sage has a work programme on it.


Her work programme includes a question whether to implement more voluntary and mandatory product stewardship for tyres, batteries, and agrichemicals.

But her list needs to include the massive amplification of public discourse that plastic bag banning is doing. It affects everyone who shops, as well as everyone who votes. Minister Sage needs to start at the humble water bottle. Because that is where the political secret sauce is.

Which brings us again to a plastic bottle recycling scheme. And glass.

16 comments on “Norway’s plastic bottle recycling ”

  1. Andre 1

    Not so sure I’m that keen on swapping liquid containers back to using glass. I suspect it’ll actually work out smarter to ensure plastic containers actually do get returned and are made of materials that can be easily recycled.

    The downsides of glass for liquid containers are that a practical container ends up being very heavy and uses a lot of glass, with extra transport cost, and because glass has a high melt temperature it actually still takes a lot of energy to recycle glass.

    In contrast, plastics melt at low temperatures and very little plastic is needed to make a functional container.

    At the moment our plastics packaging is a total nightmare for trying to organise recycling. There’s a plethora of different polymers and grades used, which have to be carefully sorted and separated. All for the purpose of saving a few pennies at most per container. However, all packaging container needs could be filled by a couple of different polymers, say PET and polypropylene, chosen so they can be easily separated by simple methods such as flotation.

    Then ensure it’s worthwhile to return the packing. With a hefty refundable deposit. It’s almost half a century ago now, but as a small kid in California I funded several major (hey, I was a small kid) purchases from collecting and returning aluminium cans.

    • McFlock 1.1

      The other thing about glass is that ISTR the temperature needs to be cooled slowly or it fucks it up, unlike plastics which just go solid without stress fracturing.

      I like your idea about standardised packaging materials. Things like the 3-ply milk bottles are bloody stupid.

  2. Bearded Git 2

    I heard the other day that Coca Cola alone produces 650 million plastic bottles annually in NZ.

    This has to stop. And where containers are necessary re-use is a million times better than recycle, which should almost be a dirty word.

    • Andre 2.1

      ” … re-use is a million times better than recycle … ”

      Well, maybe not a million times, but yeah.

      To achieve that requires standardisation of containers. Which we used to have for beer and milk, until that can of worms was opened in the 80s. Catching all those worms and herding them back into the can is gonna be fkn hard, tho. Seems to me that standardising materials and refundable deposits are useful steps in that direction, getting people used to the idea that containers aren’t throwaway items anymore and standardisation is a good thing.

    • SaveNZ 2.2

      +1 Bearded Git

  3. bwaghorn 3

    Great way for schools to make so extra . Get the kids to collect and bring them in .

  4. Draco T Bastard 4

    but I would like my milk in glass bottles please.

    I don’t. As an article that I was reading a few weeks ago (Which I believe I linked to on here) pointed out – the extra mass of the glass bottles uses more energy to shift and thus created more GHGs than plastic bottles. As I said at the time and in many other situations: Plastics aren’t really the problem – it’s our recycling of them.

    Norway is now seriously in need of more rubbish.

    They don’t really – they just need to accept that burning trash is no longer an option and the trash burning plants need to be closed down.

    Becoming reliant upon trash burning to produce electricity and heat was only ever viable short term. It should have been obvious from the get-go that once proper recycling got under way then they would be shut down. And with climate change now a major issue it needs to be shut down to curb the GHG emissions.

    You may, if you’re like me and have a bit of grey hair around, still remember a time where the milkman of human kindness was delivered straight to your door, paid for by milk tokens, and you delivered back a set of empty ones in a little white wire rack. These were returned, sterilized, and used by some other lucky citizen the next day.

    Yep, I remember. I even had a job on one of the milk trucks. You’ll note that we no longer even have the milk trucks. You’ll also note that milk-runs were a contracted monopoly. Having competition on a run would have increased costs, resulted in the collapse of most of the companies trying to do the run with a private, unregulated monopoly as the inevitable result (pretty much the way that all competition goes).

    I’m all for free delivery of groceries but it would be of groceries and not just of milk but it would still have to be a state monopoly for it to work for the betterment of society.
    Quoting Capitalism vs. Freedom:

    George Orwell, the globally celebrated journalist and critic of the totalitarianism of the Soviet Union, himself reviewed Hayek’s book The Road to Serfdom for the London Observer in 1944. He agreed with Hayek’s claim, as Orwell put it, that ”collectivism is not inherently democratic,” an insight born of Orwell’s own evolving socialist positions (see Chapter 5). But his torpedoing of the core flaw of Hayek’s arguments was simple:

    But he does not see, or will not admit, that a return to ’free’ competition means for the great mass of people a tyranny probably worse, because more irresponsible, than that of the State. The trouble with competitions is that somebody wins them. Professor Hayek denies that free capitalism necessarily leads to monopoly, but in practice that is where it has led.

    • SaveNZ 4.1

      I’m +1 one for “I would like my milk in glass bottles”.

      With all the chemicals leaching out of plastic…. I’m one who has a glass water bottle that I refill from the tap.

      And I’d like my milk out of glass bottles too, is it really that hard to sterilise a glass bottle????

      • Draco T Bastard 4.1.1

        It’s not the sterilisation. It’s the added costs of transporting them that’s the problem.

        Or should we just ignore climate change because you want everything in glass?

        • SaveNZ

          Not much difference in supermarkets between glass and plastic. The snowflakes seem to be able to “carry’ beer and wine in glass, but not milk?

  5. Hanswurst 5

    Yeah, we have had a system like that in Germany for about 15 years. Reusable plastic and glass bottles are subject to a 15 or 8c deposit (Euro cents), while non-reusable but recyclable plastic bottles and aluminium cans have a 25c deposit. Vendors must by law accept the return and refund the deposit of any bottles of a type they have in stock. There are dedicated machines in all supermarkets for receiving the bottles, and one receives a receipt from these for redeeming at the checkout. In the case of heavier glass milk bottles and some jars with vacuum-sealing lids, the consumer is encouraged to return them with the lid attached, although the container will not be rejected if the latter is missing.

    When the standardisation of this system (i. e. requiring businesses to refund deposits on containers they had not sold, but of a type they sold) was introduced about fifteen years ago, there were rather vocal complaints from affected businesses, but it died down pretty quickly.

    • In Vino 5.1

      You cannot expect dumb-arse Kiwis to copy good ideas from overseas. We usually import only right-wing bad ones, like Charter Schools, etc.

  6. SaveNZ 6

    I’d like to see a massive change in NZ from a end consumer user pays type neoliberal approach to recycling to actually putting the onus for all recycling back on the manufacturer or retailer to have to dispose of the rubbish they produce and sell and pay the waste charges.

    Once they do this, NZ’s increasing waste management crisis will be a thing of the past and we will encourage innovation of recyclable packaging and the end to endless plastic packaging and rubbish in our oceans and streets. Banning the bag should just be the start, they need to end the entire oversupply of packaging and throw away plastic items in this country which is completely out of control!!!!

    Unfortunately we are not clean and green pure NZ and maybe our governments never were, but just seemed that way because we had a small population and could get away with it and the seemingly ungreen promoter of that slogan (is it true none other than a right wing Aussie) did an amazing job of hoodwinking everyone?

    Although apparently NZ has one of the cleanest recycling packaging. NZ citizens do carefully wash our plastics in the (often futile) attempts that it will be recycled by councils when apparently often that is not the case!

    It is our officials and free ‘deregulation’ market focused government letting us down for plastic pollution, not the people!

  7. SaveNZ 7

    One of the reasons many people are getting poorer and poorer in NZ is that our government and officials love to put the user charges on the end consumer because it is easier for them to do that than charge the polluters (which will eventually make the change as when they have to pay they will change tack).

    Officials do this because business will litigation to get their way and pay less and so generally the little guy is a much easier target to make pay for pollution and so business has got used to getting their own way on everything and making the state or consumers pay for all the detrimental environmental effects of what they are doing.

    This then has an add on effect, that councils and officials fear creating environmental regulation and then precedents constantly get set in businesses favour and pollution flourishes and we get basket case climate and plastic filled and polluted oceans and rivers.

    That is what needs to stop ASAP!

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