Plastic Exported For Recycling Remains In Swedish Warehouse

Tonnes of Icelandic plastic exported to be recycled in 2016 are still sitting in a warehouse in Sweden, Stundin reports. The Icelandic Recycling Fund will demand that Swedish recycling company Swerec upholds its commitments regarding Icelandic plastic sent to be recycled, Vísir reports. The chairman of the board of the Recycling Fund states that Icelandic recycling companies operated under the belief that they were working with a reputable company in Sweden.

A year ago, Stundin reported that while Icelandic plastic was sent abroad to be recycled, the percentage of plastic that was actually recycled was much smaller than reported. Today, Stundin reported that more than half of all plastic exported from Iceland to Sweden to be recycled in 2016, approx. 1500 tonnes, is still sitting in a run-down warehouse in the town of Päryd in Southern Sweden. Stundin reporter and photographer travelled to Sweden and were stunned to find a warehouse packed with Icelandic plastic, that according to reports should have been recycled years ago.

Official reports in Iceland claim that the plastic has been recycled and Icelandic waste disposal companies have been paid for taking care of the waste in an environmentally friendly way. Environment Minister Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson told Vísir that it was important that people trust the system when it comes to recycling and that the ministry had contacted the board of the Icelandic Recycling Fund as soon as the news broke. “We’re waiting for further clarification on what’s happening and what we can do about it,” Guðlaugur stated. “We aren’t doing all this [recycling] for the plastic to end up where it is now, that’s for sure.”

Chairman of the Board of the Icelandic Recycling Fund Magnús Jóhannesson stated that the fund’s reaction to the news that the plastic still hasn’t been recycled is that next week, the board will be contacting Swerec, demanding that they take the Icelandic plastic and get it processed. He pointed out that Icelandic companies believed that Swerec was a reputable company and that comparable institutions to the Icelandic Recycling Fund in Norway and Sweden also dealt with Swerec. Swerec had sold a portion of the Icelandic plastic to another company at the time that later went under, leading to the Icelandic plastic still sitting in the warehouse. Magnús stated that the Fund believed the issue had been resolved. “it’s clear now that it wasn’t and that’s why we will be responding in this way,” he told Vísir. Magnús does not believe that plastic is the responsibility of the Icelandic Recycling Fund, stating that the responsibility lies with the Swedish company and that they will make sure that they do their duty.

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.

Volunteers Collected 2.6 Tonnes of Trash in Nature Reserve Hornstrandir

Trash in Hornstrandir

The volunteer group Hreinni Hornstrandir (Cleaner Hornstrandir) finished its first trash clean-up round of the nature reserve Hornstrandir in the Westfjords, led by Ísafjörður local Gauti Geirsson. Russian vodka and Alaskan shampoo along with fishing equipment and plastics in all shapes and forms were part of this year’s 2.6 tonne haul. Since 2014, the group has headed annually to the area to clean up plastic, trash, and litter over a weekend. A group of twenty volunteers, mainly locals from the Westfjords, collected trash over two days this time around on June 19-20. The main bulk of the weight, close to 80%, is believed to be derived from the fishing industry such as buoys and nets.

Historically, the area has received large amounts of driftwood from all around the world. In the last couple of years, plastics have been a large part of the trash. “Fishing gear, nets, buoys, plastic packaging, containers. Every kind of plastic. You’ll find it all there,” says Gauti. “One year we found a cognac bottle with Arabic lettering, it makes no sense that it wound up in Hornstrandir. We’ve found experimental buoys, transmitters. Stuff from both sides of the Atlantic. The trash comes from all around. USA, Canada, UK, Norway, Spain, and from the whole of the North Atlantic area.”

The volunteer group along with the crew of the coast guard vessel Þór. Photo from Hreinni Hornstrandir/Geir Sigurðsson

5 years between clean-up in Hornvík

This year’s outing was a milestone trip as the first round of clean-up was now completed, by cleaning the coves Smiðjuvík, Bjarnarnes, and Hrollaugsvík. The group also headed back for a second round in Hornvík. Hornvík was originally cleaned in 2015 when volunteers picked close to two tonnes of trash in the area. Five years later, 1.1 tonnes of trash was the haul.

Gauti Geirsson started the initiative in 2014 with the goal of removing trash in the nature reserve and to raise the issue of plastic and other trash in the ocean. “What lit the spark was when I was working on passenger boats heading with travellers to the area. I was taking a French photographer to the area, and he wanted to take a photo of Hornbjarg cliff. But he was so appalled by the amount of trash in the area. He took photos of the trash instead and ended up opening an exhibition in France. I thought to myself that I had to something about it, and the idea of the clean-up came up,” Gauti says. “I needed a foreigner to open my eyes towards the issue, as I had become accustomed to it, seeing the driftwood and the trash from the fishing industry. At the time, I didn’t know any better than that these matters were in good shape, but we have to get the plastic out of there before it starts breaking down into nature.”

Gauti Geirsson along with Óli Rafn Kristinsson. Photo from Hreinni Hornstrandir / Geir Sigurðsson

“It was a matter of pride. For the first trip, it was more a case of we have been caught with our pants down and we must do something about it. Then, over time, factors such as ensuring biodiversity in the area and protecting the ecosystem come into play. There were microparticles of plastic breaking down there. We have been trying to raise awareness on this issue. There’s not only trash out on the ocean but we’re also seeing a lot of trash blow from land out onto the ocean and beaches, so people really have to watch what they throw and where,” Gauti adds.

2.6 tonne haul

Although 2.6 tonnes sound a large number, the record amount for one trip is 9 tonnes in 2018, collected by a group of 50 people. “It was a great weekend, with a particularly good group of volunteers, it’s a key to our operation to have good people with us, as it’s hard work. Yes, 2.6. tonnes are fine. One should be happy that it is not more. The main goal is that the amount decreases year from year and that the area becomes as clean from trash as possible. But note that the areas we covered this time around are not large in size, as most of them were relatively small coves,” Gauti says, referring to Smiðjuvík, Bjarnarnes, and Hrollaugsvík.

Geir Sigurðsson with a haul. Photo from Hreinni Hornstrandir

Starting a movement

The group hopes that the Hornstrandir clean-up raises awareness of trash in the ocean. “Plastic in the ocean is a large problem, and especially so for a fishing nation such as Iceland. The plastic particles end up in the fish, which we export to other countries. Who wants to eat a fish full of plastic? So, all kinds of factors started to come into play once we dove deeper into the subject,” said Gauti, who studies at the Arctic University of Norway in Tromso. He hopes that others may follow suit around the world and organize clean-ups in their local area. “It’s for self-motivation as well. I was 22 when I started this, and if a 22-year-old wants to make a change in the world he should just do it – rather than waiting for someone else to do it. To inspire others to take on issues such as these. If everyone does their part, the workload is not too heavy,” Gauti says.

“I want to encourage people to do what they can. Both in daily consumption and in caring for the environment. And to clean up trash. It does not need to be a full-scale clean-up with a coast guard vessel by your side. It is just as effective to clean 10 kilograms of trash in your local beach as it is here in Hornstrandir,” Gauti states.

A mound of trash in Smiðjuvík beach. Photo from Hreinni Hornstrandir/Geir Sigurðsson

Joint operation with Coast Guard

As the area is a nature reserve, it takes some effort to remove the trash from the isolated beaches. “The trips vary each year, depending on the surroundings as Hornstrandir is a diverse area. Fishing nets and ropes get stuck in sand beaches while plastic containers and buoys are wedged in between large stones in more rocky beaches. The group has been comprised of between 20-50 people, depending on the size of the clean-up area,” Gauti adds.

Icelandic Coast Guard assisting the volunteers. Photo from Hreinni Hornstrandir/Geir Sigurðsson

The Icelandic Coast Guard assists with the clean-up and has done so since 2015. “It’s fantastic to have the Coast Guard with us. We could not do it without them. It can create a certain uncertainty, however, as they could be called upon for assistance elsewhere at any time. So, we’ve got a plan A, B, and C,” he says. Borea Adventures, a local tour operator, brought the volunteers over from Ísafjörður to the clean-up area, while the coast guard vessel Þór transported the volunteers back, along with the tonnes trash. Once in port, The Environmental Agency of Iceland and the municipality of Ísafjörður handle the disposal of the trash.

Hornstrandir natural reserve

Located in the Westfjords, Hornstrandir is Iceland’s northernmost peninsula and has been protected since 1975. The last locals left the area in the 1950s, leaving the area uninhabited. An area of great natural beauty and harsh weather, it is popular with hikers. Hornstrandir is home to swathes of birds in the towering cliffs, as well as being a refuge for the arctic fox.

For further news on the initiative – head to

“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.”


#Kranavatn Campaign Encourages Tourists to Drink Tap Water

A new ad campaign by Iceland’s official tourism website encourages tourists to drink tap water when visiting the country. The new ad promotes the hashtag #kranavatn (#tapwater) and aims to reduce the number of people buying bottled water in Iceland.

A recent survey of 16,000 people in North America and Europe found that 65% of travelers use more bottled water and beverages while traveling than when they are at home. Reasons cited for this increase in usage include concerns about the safety of tap water in the host country (70%) and convenience (19%).

In order to combat these specific concerns, the new ad campaign, which was launched in collaboration with the Environment Agency of Iceland, presents Icelandic tap water as a luxury product that can be enjoyed for free all over the country. Icelandic tap water is, per the Environment Agency, some of the cleanest and best tasting water in the world.

19 Tons of Garbage Collected From Beaches

Just over nineteen tons of garbage were collected from Icelandic beaches in the last two weeks, as part of the Nordic Coastal Clean-Up Day. It is believed that around 80% of the garbage comes from the fishing industry.

The initiative, overseen by the Environment Agency of Iceland, focused on beaches and shorelines on the Snæfellsnes peninsula, the Hópsnes peninsula near the Southwestern town of Grindavík, and Hornafjörður in Southeast Iceland. The Nordic Coastal Clean-Up Day is a collaborative project of environmental organizations from the Nordic countries. The day itself took place on May 6 in Iceland and is a part of the Hreinsum Ísland (Let’s Clean Iceland) initiative, spearheaded by the Icelandic Environment Association and Blái Herinn (The Blue army). The public can access info about the cleanups and also registers their own clean up in a special map where all the cleanup data is collected.

This is the second year in a row that Snæfellsnes has participated in the Nordic Beach Cleaning Day. Four different locations were cleaned on the peninsula, with as many as 40 volunteers taking part in efforts in the town of Stykkishölmur and anywhere from a dozen to 30 participants in other locations. Grundafjördúr mayor Björg Ágústsdóttir said the weather was beautiful for the volunteer effort.

“The amount never surprises me. I know there’s one ton of garbage per kilometre in Icelandic beaches, it doesn’t matter where you look,” said Tómas J. Knútsson, head of the Blái Herinn organization. “If we’re far away from settlements, the trash is about 80% fishing gear and 20% other forms of trash, which could have drifted from land or thrown overboard.” Closer to settlements, there’s more of household refuse. “Luckily, public interest is increasing, and we’re seeing more folks taking matters into their own hands in their hometown. For me, that’s the biggest positive,” said Tómas.

Single-Use Plastic Bags Banned in Iceland

Bónus plastic bag

The Icelandic Parliament passed a bill yesterday banning single-use plastic bags, Fréttablaðið reports. As of July 1, stores will not be allowed to provide plastic carrier bags free of charge to customers. A total ban on single-use plastic bags will take effect on January 1, 2021.

The ban extends to plastic produce bags available free of charge in grocery store produce sections. Stores can, however, continue to sell plastic sandwich bags and garbage bags on their shelves. The ban will not apply to carrier bags made of other materials.

Icelandic grocery stores have been adopting single-use bags made of materials other than plastic in recent months. “We are very happy about these changes and they are in line with our emphases,” says Gréta María Grétarsdóttir, CEO of grocery chain Krónan. The bill was passed with 43 votes and 7 abstentions and is part of an 18-step government action plan to reduce the use of plastic.

Iceland Takes Part in Nordic Beach Cleaning Day

Residents of several municipalities in Iceland took part in the Nordic Beach Cleaning Day on Saturday. RÚV reports that the initiative, overseen by the Environment Agency of Iceland, focused on beaches and shorelines on the Snæfellsnes peninsula, the Hópsnes peninsula near the Southwestern town of Grindavík, and Suðurfjörur on the Hornafjörður fjord in Southeast Iceland.

This is the second year in a row that Snæfellsnes has participated in the Nordic Beach Cleaning Day. Four different locations were cleaned on the peninsula, with as many as 40 volunteers taking part in efforts in the town of Stykkishölmur and anywhere from a dozen to 30 participants in other locations. Grundafjördúr mayor Björg Ágústsdóttir said the weather was beautiful for the volunteer effort.

Björg also noted that as people who live close to the sea, residents of Snæfellsnes generally place particular importance on having clean shores and oceans. Interest in environmental issues has, nevertheless, been increasing in recent years, she said.

Teams in Snæfellsnes combed the areas along shorelines and the Ring Road, picking up metal, plastic, and sticks and wood debris. Björg said that what really surprised her was that there wasn’t more garbage to collect.

Overall, organizers were pleased with the level of commitment from residents, although not surprised. “We live in a nature paradise,” Björg remarked, “and it’s important that it be clean.”

Proposed Ban on Plastic Carrier Bags by 2021

A bill proposed in the Icelandic Parliament by Minister of Environment Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson will ban all plastic carrier bags by 2021. If the bill goes through, businesses will not be allowed to give plastic carrier bags to customers for free. By 2021, businesses will not be allowed to hand out any plastic carrier bags, whether for free or for payment.
Businesses will still be allowed to have plastic carrier bags for sale on store shelves, but bags will be banned at checkout points.
The bill plans that individuals should use no more than 90 plastic bags on average per year from the beginning of 2020, and no more than 40 from the beginning of 2026.
The proposed bill goes to further lengths than European Union guidelines on the reduction of plastic bag usage state. The European Union allows states to exempt the thinnest of plastic bags from the ban, which will not be the case in Iceland.

Iceland is a member of the European Economic Area (EEA) and therefore has access to the inner market of the European Union and the so-called four freedoms of the European Union. Being a member of the EEA, Iceland has to follow European Union rules which affect goods, services, capital and persons.