Infinitum runs Norway’s highly efficient deposit and recycling system for plastic bottles and aluminium cans that underlines the country’s leading role in tackling environmental issues
Norway is a country, which takes its environmental responsibilities seriously. The past few decades have been marked by growing concerns over the high levels of product waste that countries dispose of, and the impact it has on natural resources. Recycling has logically become an area of development, and Norway takes pride in introducing some of the most successful recycling schemes across the whole of Europe.
Infinitum AS is one of the organisations that has continuously contributed to the name Norway has made for itself. It administers the nationwide deposit and recycling system for non-refillable beverage packaging that encourages people to return their empty plastic bottles and aluminium cans, and get a refund. Kjell Olav A. Maldum, managing director of Infinitum, explains how the scheme works: “Producers and importers of beverages, either in cans, or in non-refillable bottles, can register their product. They pay the deposit, plus an EPR fee, to Infinitum, to label the bottles and cans with the deposit symbol. The consumer pays for the deposit when they buy the product, but when they return the empties, they get it back from the store. In turn, the retailers get the deposit refunded from Infinitum.”
Norway has had a deposit system for over 100 years. It started with glass bottles. In 1972, the first RVM (reverse vending machines) were installed. Refillable plastic bottles replaced the glass bottles in the 90’s.
When cans and non-refillable plastic bottles came on the market, the industry and manufacturers concluded that they had to set up a second company to handle the new packaging. That was the start of Infinitum. The company was founded in 1996 by beverage producers and the Norwegian grocery sector, as the two industries first decided to launch the deposit system for recyclable cans, and later for plastic bottles. Prodded by Norwegian legislation, according to which all beverage cans and bottles were subject to environmental tax (when the collection rates is above 95 per cent the environmental tax is zero; the levy on plastic bottles and cans was removed in 2012/13), the two industries started the scheme in an attempt to increase the collection rate of bottles and cans, and reduce their environmental levy. Meanwhile, the Norwegian Government set out to incentivise those who reach a return rate of 95 per cent further, by completely exempting them from the tax.
2012 was a landmark year for the deposit system. It was at the time when non-refillable bottles eclipsed refillable ones in use, which allowed the significant scale-up of Infinitum’s activities that ensued in the period from 2015 onwards. The shift turned out to be a powerful motivator for the Norwegians, who are now depositing more units than ever before. In 2016, the one billion empties threshold was crossed, denoting a three-fold increase since 2012.
Infinitum has invested approximately £8 million in its sorting plants used to record, process, and prepare the returned bottles and cans that are then sent in compressed cubes for high grade recycling. The cans are melted into aluminium sheets from which new cans or other types of aluminium products are manufactured, while the plastic bottles are sorted, shredded, cleaned, and dried into plastic flakes, which are in turn moulded into preforms, and then bought by producers for the production of new bottles.
“Plastic is a very efficient material,” Kjell Olav opines. “Glass bottles require 34 times more energy in production. There have been calls for banning plastic bottles, but this is not the solution. We can continue using them, as long as we can set up cost-efficient collection and recycling schemes like ours and the other Nordic countries.” He regards the presence of official regulation as one of Infinitum’s biggest strengths, adding that the fair system allows every participant to get paid, which has led to long-term partnerships on both the collection, and the recycling sides of the process.
One of the highlight projects for Infinitum at the moment has seen it enter into partnership with Norway’s largest online grocery store, Kolonial.no. Together, the two companies set up a system that will enable the collection of empty bottles and cans directly from households. “It is an attempt to get empties from those consumers who do not do their shopping physically, but opt to order on the internet, instead,” Kjell Olav explains.
In 2017, the company focused on the optimisation of its internal operations, in order to better its services. “We implemented new IT solutions for monitoring the value chain,” Kjell Olav points out. “Another positive development was perfecting traceability in the logistics chain to help us reduce costs. Moreover, we introduced some changes to our transport packaging, so that we could increase efficiency and material quality.”
The main goal is to increase the collection rates and increase the recycling yield to lowest possible EPR cost.
The EPR cost that producers add to the price of plastic bottle stands at 0.18 Norwegian krones per unit at the moment, and Kjell Olav’s ambition for 2018 is to reduce it by nearly 50 per cent, down to 0.10 krones. The EPR cost for cans are 0,00 NOK. “We are also working to increase the collection rate through the RVM (reverse vending machines),” he reveals, also noting that the reigning longterm objective at Infinitum is to achieve a 100 per cent collection rate. “In the future, we will be looking to expand the deposit system to include new type of drink containers, and also establish a new recycling plant for plastic bottles,” Kjell Olav concludes.