Motivating plastic collection with a local currency and a deposit scheme

Would people become more eager to recycle plastic if they got paid for it? And how well would a deposit scheme for food packaging work? A one-of-a-kind experiment was conducted in Soini. The experiment was run by Soini’s 4H organisation and, naturally, the area’s residents who collected the plastic and felt it was an honour to participate.

Soini is a municipality in the Finnish region of South Ostrobothnia, and its residents are rewarded with more than just satisfaction for recycling plastic. In return for depositing plastic waste in the collection containers, they receive local currency, which can be used in the local supermarkets. So, what is this all about?

In 2018, Soini’s 4H organisation launched an experiment as part of the Globe League competition for NGOs. The people behind the idea formed Soini’s 4H team and included Saija Källi, Suvi Ojala, Jenni Savolainen (Kuudestaan ry), Juha Viitasaari (Municipality of Soini), Johannes Aalto (Municipality of Soini) and Kari Laasasenaho (Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences).

‘We wanted to try out an incentive scheme similar to the familiar bottle deposit scheme,’ Laasasenaho says.

‘We started by gluing deposit stickers onto certain products in our local K-Market, such as yoghurt pots and mincemeat packages. Then we arranged a collection point for the packaging and monitored the return rate. The deposit values were 2, 5 and 10 cents, and the vouchers given in return for the packages could be used in the supermarket. During the competition, we organised five collection campaigns that lasted for several days each.’

Payment per kilo

The return rate was quite low during the experiment, less than 20%, and later the team decided to start paying people per kilo of returned plastic material.

‘We realised that paying per kilo was easier. Initially, we offered vouchers worth 1 euro per kilo of returned plastic, but later reduced the value to 50 cents, which is more in line with the material’s actual value,’ Laasasenaho says.

‘Instead of a voucher, compensation can also be paid in digital local currency. We created an app called MuoviSampo, which allows the upload of mobile funds. It can be used to pay for products in the K-Market, Sale and 4H recycling shop.

The MuoviSampo collection point turns consumers’ plastic packaging into a handy local currency.

So far, more than 1,000 kg of plastic has been collected. The collection point has only been open at certain times, and during the summer it was managed by a temporary summer employee. More collections will be organised in the future, and there are plans to expand the experiment to cover the entire region. Furthermore, the aim is to develop the mobile application further.

‘Digitalisation provides a huge number of opportunities,’ Laasasenaho says.

Media coverage for the municipality

Soini’s municipal manager, Juha Viitasaari, has taken part in the experiment since the beginning and has seen the value it has added to the municipality.

‘This has definitely given Soini more visibility and made us forerunners in the field. The residents here consider this a matter of pride,’ says Viitasaari.

However, creating a functional concept has taken a lot of effort.

‘Building a network around the operating model has proven to be the most important element. We need to get the customer interface, business collaboration and utilisation of the collected plastic to work. Unfortunately, the majority of plastic waste is currently not being recycled.’

‘We buy the material straight from the consumers and sell it on to our business partner. We selected a partner that could guarantee that all of the collected material would be utilised.’

The plastic collected during the Globe League competition was delivered to Fenergy Oy, which has a dry distillation facility in Laihia. Through this process, plastic can be transformed back into oil and further into new plastic products. The plastic collected in summer 2019 was sent to one of Rinki’s collection points and from there to the refinery in Riihimäki for the manufacturing of recycled products.

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