Icelandic Youth Mark One Year of Weekly Climate Strikes

Climate Strike Iceland

Students demonstrated in Austurvöllur square on Friday, demanding that the government take action on climate issues. Friday marked the one-year anniversary of the first weekly School Strike for Climate in Iceland. To mark the day, primary, secondary, and college students gathered in front of Hallgrímskirkja just before noon and marched to Austurvöllur square, in front of the Icelandic Parliament, where student leaders delivered speeches demanding action on climate change.

Vísir reports that young Icelandic activists involved in the ongoing #FridaysForFuture school strikes say the government has yet to take meaningful steps towards addressing climate issues in the country. This was the 52nd Friday that young people in Iceland have demonstrated in support of climate change action.

Jóna Þórey Pétursdóttir, the president of the University of Iceland’s Student Council, told reporters that she believed students’ ongoing protests have had a measurable impact thus far, particularly in terms of making the topic of climate change a public debate and raising awareness about climate issues. “…[W]e’re showing that young people are ready to take matters into our own hands. The goal, of course, was to demand increased measures from the government and we’ve yet to see those. Which is why we’re going to continue,” she remarked.

“We want a bright future,” Brynjar Einarsson, a student at Háteigsskóli primary school, told reporters. “A future that isn’t polluted. One where we can live without needing to be worried that we’re going to die because of climate change.”

Brynjar’s 13-year-old classmate, Jökull Jónsson, has been involved in the school strikes for climate from the beginning, and expressed a certain amount of pessimism about the future, although he did have specific ideas about ways in which Iceland could meaningfully address climate change issues.

“Really, we just need to reduce our carbon footprint as much as possible and try to be environmentally friendly.”

 

“Only country in the world that can have a retroactive carbon footprint”

Construction is underway to increase the capacity of a South Iceland plastics recycling center six fold, Vísir reports. When the expansion to the Pure North Recycling centre in the town of Hveragerði is completed, the company says it will be able to recycle all of the recyclable plastic produced in Iceland.

Pure North Recycling began to recycle plastics in 2015 and is the only company in Iceland that recycles plastic completely. Plastic processed by their facility is turned into a raw material that is then sold to companies that make new products from it. For example, plastic recycled at Pure North is used in the production of plastic poles and pipes in Iceland. Most of the company’s recycled material is, however, sold abroad.

Looking forward, CEO Sigurður Halldórsson says that Pure North would like to sell most of its recycled plastic domestically, “and thus close the cycle here at home.”

“Just steam, water, and electricity”

“We’ve actually developed new methods that atypical for recycling plastics by using geothermal heat in the process,” Sigurður explained. “So we’re not using any chemicals or anything like that – just steam, water, and electricity.” He explains that geothermal steam is used to heat up the ambient air around the plastic, which dries it out after washing. The resulting steam is then used for washing the next batch of plastic.

Pure North hired the consulting firm ReSource International to conduct an assessment of its recycling process and compare its carbon footprint with that of companies using similar recycling processes abroad. ReSource found that Pure North creates a smaller carbon footprint when it imports plastic waste from Europe to recycle than when Iceland exports its plastic waste to European companies for recycling.

“We’re the only country in the world that can have a retroactive carbon footprint for plastics recycling,” Sigurður said. “You can basically offset the carbon for your farming or whatever with the recycling of plastic, so it’s a real revolution.”

“Every nation has to bear the responsibility”

Pure North now recycles many kinds of plastics, but Sigurður says there need to be changes in the way that plastic from households and businesses is sorted so that the company is better able to take more consumer plastic.

“We’re making big strides – we’re now first and foremost looking at the biggest categories, for example, like the plastic used on hay bales. There are some two thousand tonnes a year that come from what we are recycling.”

The company also recycles a certain amount of packaging plastic, but Sigurður says that there needs to be better sorting practices within the home in order to maximise the company’s output. Many different categories of plastic are currently getting mixed together, which creates problems at the recycling facility.

Countries all over the world face major challenges to their recycling processes now that countries such as China are no longer accepting plastic waste from countries in the west. For his part, Sigurður thinks this is a good thing.

“Now every nation has to bear the responsibility. People can’t just send it to Asia and look the other way.”

“We would like to get rid of the idea of single-use plastic”

Icelandic innovation company Plastplan and discount grocery store chain Krónan are embarking on a plastics recycling collaboration that is intended to make the company more environmentally friendly and reduce its carbon footprint, RÚV reports.

Plastplan grew out of the Precious Plastics project and recycling model started by Dave Hakkens in The Netherlands in 2013. Product designer Björn Steinn Blumenstein then joined Precious Plastics’ international development team in 2017 and used it to found Plastplan with childhood friend Brynjólfur Stefánsson. Plastplan’s goal in Iceland is to recycle plastic and make new and useful items out of it. Their collaboration with Krónan will see them recycling plastic that comes into the store at its Grandi location and turn it into something new and practical to use in the company’s operations: the plastic dividers that customers use to separate their purchases on conveyor belts, for instance, labels, or baskets for fruits and vegetables.

Plastplan will be working with all the plastic packaging that comes into the store and usually gets disposed of right away. The company has four machines to assist in the recycling and recreation process: one that breaks the plastic down and three that mold the molten plastic into new objects. Björn Steinn explains that the machines are very similar to those that are used in larger plastic recycling stations, just scaled down. The smaller machines suit Plastplan at this stage, particularly since they are focused on making small items.

“We want consumers and companies to get something in their hands right away,” he said. “We want to create useful things to support a necessary change [in peoples’] ways of thinking.”

The environmental impact of single-use and/or disposable plastic has become a point of focus around the world, with some places, like Bali, banning plastic all together. Plastplan’s philosophy isn’t anti-plastic, however. “We would instead like to get rid of the idea of single-use plastics,” says Björn Steinn. “It’s possible to recycle plastic more than once and often, more than twice.”

 

Twice as Many Travellers Offsetting Their Carbon Emissions

About 100 people have offset the carbon emissions from their flights to and from Iceland so far this year, which is already double the number of people who did so in 2018. RÚV reports that four thousand trees must be planted on one hectare [2.47 acres] in order to accomplish this balance.

Travelers wishing to offset the carbon emissions generated by their travels can register on the website of the Kolviður Fund. The fund was established by the Icelandic Forestry Association and the Icelandic Environment Association with the support of the Icelandic government and aims to “reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere by increasing the carbon sequestration of forest ecosystems, binding the soil and reducing soil erosion, increasing public awareness and the awareness of companies in regard to greenhouse gas emissions, and promoting education on related issues.”

In addition to individual travelers, as many as 60 companies have also registered to offset their own carbon footprints through the website. “We’re figuring on planting around 150,000 trees this summer around Úlfljótsvatn lake,” explained Kolviður chairman Reynir Kristinsson. “It was around 100,000 last year.” It could take around 60 years for trees to achieve full carbon sequestration, he continued, but the plants will be considerably effective after even just ten years.

Two flights to Tenerife from Iceland generates as much pollution as one family car over the course of an entire year. As Icelanders become more habitual travelers and take a growing number of trips abroad, an increasing number of people are experiencing flugskömm, or flight shame, over the negative effects that increased air travel has on the environment.

Eighty-three percent of Icelanders traveled abroad last year—the highest percentage of citizens to do so since 2009. Even so, multiple surveys have shown that Icelanders are less willing to change their travel habits out of concern for the environmental impact than they are to change their consumption habits at home. 52.6% of respondents said they were planning a city break abroad in 2019, 43.5% were planning a holiday in a “sunny country,” and 34.7% said they’d be visiting friends or relatives who live abroad.