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VIDEO: Norway Recycles 97 Percent of Its Plastic Bottles

By Maggie Fuller

May 15, 2020

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Illustration by Claudia Cardia

World of Good is a video series featuring feel-good stories that often get buried in our newsfeeds. In this episode, we look at another reason to love Norway.

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Video transcription

Next time you visit Norway, don’t toss your plastic bottle in the garbage—the country has one of the best recycling systems in the world.

Ninety-seven percent of all plastic drink bottles get recycled in Norway—that’s water bottles, soda bottles, and some juice bottles. Ninety-two percent are recycled to such a high standard that they’re actually turned back into bottles and used again.

For comparison, in the United States we only recycle about 29 percent of our plastic bottles.

So how does the Norwegian system work?

Consumers pay a small deposit—or “pant”(paunt)—of two to three krone on every bottle they buy. It works out to about 20 to 30 cents. They can then return their empties to a “reverse vending machine” for an instant refund.

There are around 3,700 reverse vending machines and 16,000 additional collection points across the country. Talk about convenient! Returning bottles for a refund is such a common practice, that there’s even a verb for it: å pante.

Bottle producers play an important part in the system as well. The Norwegian government places an environmental tax on all plastic bottle producers and importers. The more their products get recycled, the less tax they have to pay. If more than 95 percent of what they collectively produce gets recycled, they don’t have to pay anything at all. So it’s no wonder they make bottle return so easy for consumers!

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There are similar systems in other parts of the world. But the idea is spreading. Western Australia plans to implement its own recycling system in the summer of 2020. India, China, Rwanda, and Belgium—all interested in kick-starting their own systems.

So save your bottles on your next Norwegian vacation. You may only get a few cents back for each, but it could add up to a nice cup of coffee and a little bit of world change.

Further reading

  • Infinitum, the company that produces and oversees Norway’s reverse vending machines recently reported their 2019 numbers. Last year, they collected almost 6 million cans and 5.5 million bottles labeled with the deposit symbol.
  • Recycling systems like this one are becoming increasingly important, especially after China decided to no longer accept the world’s recycled waste in early 2018. Unfortunately, many countries aren’t equipped to handle their own plastic waste, as Wired finds in a close look at the world’s chaotic recyling scene

>>Next: African Countries Are Joining Together to Build a 4,750-Mile Wall of Trees

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