Iceland Bans Single-Use Plastics Starting in 2021

Iceland’s Parliament has passed an amendment to the Hygiene and Pollution Prevention Act, which, among other things, bans putting single-use plastics on the market from July 3, 2021. The products that will be banned include single-use cotton buds, plastic cutlery and dishes, straws, and stir sticks. Styrofoam food and drink containers, cups, and glasses will also be prohibited.

The unconditional ban will also cover oxo-plastic products, which are not biodegradable though often marketed as such. “Products from such plastics have made a place for themselves on the market in recent years, especially certain types of plastic bags, but their nature is to break down into microparticles that are harmful to health and the environment and are a growing problem around the world,” a government notice on the legislation states.

The amendment will also impose mandatory labelling on certain disposable plastic products that will remain permitted, such as menstrual products, wet wipes, and certain tobacco products. The labels will provide information about how to properly dispose of the products after use and the negative effects they have on the environment.

Exceptions will be made for products that are classified as medical devices.

deCODE to Halt Participation in COVID-19 Testing, CEO Says

In an open letter to Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir published in Vísir today, CEO of deCODE Kári Stefánsson urges the government to establish an Institute of Epidemiology, claiming his biopharmaceutical company will halt its participation in the country’s COVID-19 testing after July 13. DeCODE has tested around five times as many people for the novel coronavirus as Iceland’s National University Hospital, the only other institution in the country equipped to process viral samples, according to Kári. Iceland’s Director of Health says the country’s border screening initiative will have to be rethought.

Iceland’s first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed on February 28. Shortly after, DeCODE offered to conduct COVID-19 screening of the general (asymptomatic) population in order to determine how widespread the virus was in Icelandic society. “Unfortunately, the only viral laboratory within the healthcare system got into trouble as the epidemic developed, so we ended up handling almost all of the screening in the country for a period of a few weeks whether of the sick or healthy,” Kári writes. “It is therefore not unlikely that disease prevention would have proved difficult without our involvement.”

Criticises Government’s Failure to Involve deCODE in Planning

Kári points out that deCODE has not only administered and processed COVID-19 tests, but also assisted the Chief Epidemiologist and other authorities in analysing the results, as well as being the only institution to test for COVID-19 antibodies in Iceland. Yet, Kári says, when the epidemic subsided locally and the government started making plans to reopen its borders, it did so without consulting deCODE. Despite no efforts to involve the company in planning, “it was assumed in the plan that was put together that deCODE would offer to handle all sorts of aspects of the screening. We agreed to take part in the beginning (not forever), but when we did not see any real plans for someone to take over for us who had the ability to do so, we became uneasy,” Kári writes.

Proposes Institute to Address Limits of Healthcare System

Kári then reproduces a letter he sent to the government of Iceland, dated July 1, 2020, in which he advocated for the establishment of an Institute of Epidemiology. Such an institute would be able to redress the healthcare system’s current lack of capacity for COVID-19 testing, while also analysing results, processing data, and assisting in decision making regarding the current pandemic and future ones. Kári suggested the institute should be under the Directorate of Health, and offered deCODE’s assistance in establishing it, including housing it in the company’s headquarters.

Kári included a response to his letter, sent by the Prime Minister three days later. In the letter, Katrín thanks Kári for his contribution to the efforts in preventing the spread of COVID-19 in Iceland, and states the government will take his proposal into consideration. She also tells Kári that a project manager will be hired to “analyse how to strengthen the healthcare system’s infrastructure to cope with epidemics of the future, taking into account your proposal and the experience we have gained in the struggle against COVID-19.” The project manager will also “assist the Chief Epidemiologist to curb the current pandemic in close collaboration with you and your company.”

Says deCODE Will Stop COVID-19 Testing After July 13

“It is clear from this answer of yours that this problem is not as urgent for you as it is for us,” Kári continues in his letter. “Our view is that all of your conduct toward deCODE and that of the Minister of Health in this issue has been marked by disrespect for us, our contribution, and the task we have undertaken in this epidemic.”

Kári then goes on to state that deCODE will cease all communications regarding SARS-CoV-2 with the Chief Epidemiologist and Director of Health today, and will not process any COVID-19 tests received after next Monday, July 13.

Kári is known for lambasting politicians in open letters and articles published in Icelandic media. In 2016, he called former Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð’s decision to build a new National Hospital elsewhere than planned a “declaration of war,” going on to criticise his performance as Prime Minister. That same year, he demanded former President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson divulge information on his and his wife’s finances. He had expressed dissatisfaction with Iceland’s Minister of Health in a televised interview earlier this year.

Director of Health, Chief Epidemiologist Respond

Both Iceland’s Director of Health Alma Möller and Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated that in light of Kári’s announcement, the country’s border screening program would need to be rethought. They both praised deCODE for the company’s contribution to Iceland’s fight against COVID-19. “They have done a great job for all of us,” stated Þórólfur. Both officials said they could not yet say how authorities would respond to the situation.

New Laws Restrict Land Ownership to Maximum 10,000 Hectares

Deplar farm - Fljótin - Skagafjörður - hótel

A single landowner in Iceland, or affiliated parties, will not be permitted to own over 10,000 hectares (100km sq) of land according to new legislation just passed by Alþingi, RÚV reports. The legislation also calls for the establishment of a registry providing information on landowners at no cost. The legislation is the result of calls for stricter legislation on land ownership, particularly governing landowners based outside of Iceland. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir says she is prepared for the legislation to be challenged in court.

The Act on Property Ownership and Real Estate Utilisation was passed in Iceland’s parliament last week. It includes a provision for establishing a landowner registry where information on landowners can be obtained free of charge. “An overview of who owns our land will thus be created for both the government and the public in the country, and I consider that an important step in and of itself,” stated Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir. Another provision asserts that a title deed will not be notarised unless the purchase price of the asset is stated.

Billionaire Landowner Opposes Limits

The most controversial change within the legislation is that it authorises the Minister of Agriculture to impose restrictions on land purchases. If a landowner, or two or more affiliated parties, already own land totalling 10,000 hectares, they cannot acquire more unless they are granted a special exemption from the Minister. “And then there has to be a very, very strong argument for such a landmass to be in the hands of one party. That is about 0.4% of Iceland’s lowland, to give an example.”

Read More: Whose Land is it Anyway?

One organisation that has criticised the provision is Strengur, a fishing association majority-owned by British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe. Ratcliffe owns well over 10,000 hectares of land in Iceland, many of which he has purchased with the purported aim of protecting Iceland’s wild salmon stocks. The legislation would prevent Ratcliffe from purchasing additional property. (It is not, however, retroactive so he would be able to maintain ownership of his current assets.) Strengur representatives have argued that the provision violates the EEA Agreement, the Icelandic constitution, and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Strengur has not yet made a decision on whether it will challenge the legislation in court. Katrín states that she believes the act conforms to the EEA Agreement.