Grønt Punkt Norge and the Plastic Promise: celebrating sustainable packaging
Scandinavian countries are often listed high in global top-ten rankings, for example on labour participation, care, welfare and happiness. Can European countries learn from Norway's example when it comes to sustainable packaging? Grønt Punkt Norge, with its Plastic Promise, has in a relatively short time set in motion a major movement to make packaging more sustainable. "You have to offer companies an attractive and professional platform where they can get recognition from their peers. And make a celebration of it all together."
Participation in the Plastic Promise is voluntary, but not without commitment. Johannes Daae, Head of Development in Grønt Punkt Norge: "Companies, from multinationals to smaller enterprises, choose their own challenge that fits our three goals. These are: to work on design for recycling, to cut the amount of unnecessarily used plastic and, thirdly, to increase the use of recycled plastic in their packaging. Before corona, we organised three conferences annually, where the companies presented their challenges and solutions to each other, presented developments in research and other topics within the field. These were real all-day happenings. We had 120 seats available and they were all booked up. The speakers on stage knew that their competitors were in the room, but nobody seemed to mind. Everyone understood that their challenges are too complex for one company to solve alone. So they have to work together, and they are keen to learn from each other."
“During corona, we have organised webinars of about 1,5 hours, but twice as frequent. Some of the atmosphere is hard to maintain in a webinar, but on the other hand we have been able to welcome a larger audience."
Why do companies participate? "They all feel that they really need to do something. They are getting more and more questions about their packaging from other companies, both clients and suppliers. And consumers are asking for it," says Daae. A sick whale that washed ashore on the island of Sotra in 2017, with thirty plastic bags in its stomach, that had to be culled, had a big impact on the Norwegian population. "There is also increasingly more regulation coming from the EU. Although Norway is not a member of the European Union, we are obliged to follow and world champions at following EU rules and regulations. Usually we are always the first non-EU country to follow. European objectives are usually also Norway's national objectives."
"As Grønt Punkt Norge, we didn't want to wait and see, but encourage companies to get into action. That's how we came up with the Plastic Promise. Joining is one thing, but the trick is to also to deliver on your promise. The companies are given a year to put this into practice. They have to submit their results to us. We may not have the capacity to check them very thoroughly, but we trust their statement. Sometimes we see striking figures and then we ask the company for an explanation. They are always good at explaining what is going on," says Daae. In 2019, almost 50 companies completed their pledge, and in 2020 almost 60. Daae has calculated that they represent more than a third of plastic packaging on the Norwegian market. By 2020 they will have saved or improved the recyclability of over 16 thousand tonnes of plastic.
|Plastic Promise Norway 2020|
|Use of recycled plastic||8.857 ton|
|Unnecessery use of plastic||Reduction||1.017 ton|
|Design for recycling||5.480 ton|
"Every company that fulfils the pledge gets a diploma and a certificate. They can use the Plastic Promise logo on their marketing. The certificates are valid for one year. The companies may not put this certification on their packaging themselves, but the big players in particular use it in their communications, such as press releases, advertisements and annual reports. We also give away an award for the most interesting project in each of the focus areas. The winners in each category also receive a sculpture, made from household waste. The award also generates a lot of media attention, especially in the trade and industry press.”
In Norway, Grønt Punkt is responsible for financing the recovery and recycling of used packaging in the industrial sector. It is a private, non-profit company with no government involvement and 24 employees. At the development department, which is similar to KIDV, we are four. "That of course forces us to focus on the most important aspects," says Daae. One of them is design for recycling. "In addition, we determine the criteria for labelling on packaging and thereby advise consumers, municipalities and companies on how separation at source can be improved." As a link between the companies that put packaging on the market and the recycling process, Grønt Punkt has become an important knowledge partner for Norwegian business.
Can other countries take Norway as an example? Norway's collection and recycling rates are high, but Daae does not beat about the bush. He believes that each figure should be accompanied by an explanation or qualification as to how the number came about and what it actually says. The percentages are influenced by various factors, such as geography and demography. With five million inhabitants, Norway is sparsely populated. This also determines the design of the waste systems. "We do cover most of the market with our participants in the Plastic Promise. We also have only been monitoring for a relatively short time. In the beginning, the system was not yet optimal and companies had difficulty supplying the correct data.
"That has all improved in the meantime. I dare say," says Daae, "that our systems for collection, sorting and recycling work well and that with our high sorting and recycling results we are among the best in the world. In some areas, such as our deposit system for PET bottles, but also for glass and metal, we are definitely leading the way”. Norway’s recycling rate for PET is around 98 percent and the recycling rate for cans has risen to 80 percent, thanks to the deposit system. The rates for glass and metal are around 90 percent.
Yet Daae does not want to boast about the statistics. "Oslo, where I live, the 2019 European Environment Capital, has the worst results in Norway for separating plastic packaging. I believe we are the only Western European country that has failed to reduce its CO2 emissions in recent years. Worse, they have even increased, because we are quite dependent on oil production." So there is always room for improvement. "I also know that there are countries that are further along than Norway when it comes to post-separation, such as the Netherlands in its urban areas. And I do envy countries that have a structured plan for the collection system, and don’t let each municipality determine their own system. That is disastrous for recycling rates.
"The more harmonisation and standardisation there is, both in the regulations and in the infrastructure for collection and processing, the better. That is why knowledge sharing and cooperation is so important, also internationally," says Daae. Together with KIDV and the Belgian organisations FostPlus and Valipack and FTI from Sweden, Grønt Punkt Norge was in the forefront last year of PackForward, the European movement for sustainable packaging. "Because even though our system works well, we can still learn a lot from other countries."