Reykjavík Bins Overflow

recycling in iceland

The implementation of a new recycling system in Reykjavík seems to be going through some hiccoughs, with some bins throughout the city overflowing.

The city recently encouraged residents to use neighbourhood recycling centres more extensively due to changes in waste management procedures. Service providers state that improvements are being worked on.

New regulations on waste sorting came into effect at the turn of the year, and now all waste must be sorted into separate categories: paper, plastic, organic waste, and non-recyclable waste. However, the changes seem to have led to have to some oversights, with some neighbourhood bins overflowing.

As one commentator noticed: “People are being told to recycle and use neighbourhood recycling bins, but unfortunately, it seems that the infrastructure is lacking to handle what is deposited.”

A statement on the Reykjavík city website currently reads: “[Waste management contractor] Terra has decided to discontinue the service of recycling stations in Reykjavik earlier than planned. Residents who have used these stations are advised to utilize nearby Sorpa recycling centres until the bins are replaced due to coordinated waste management in Reykjavik. Recycling bins cannot be emptied outside the scheduled timeframe.”

A temporary transition is expected to continue for a few days. Valgeir M. Baldursson, the director of Terra, stated to RÚV: “As is often the case with changes, there’s a transition period. But we’re almost done distributing the new bins and the new system is almost in place.”

Residents have been advised to use neighbourhood bins until the replacement of residential bins is completed, which is expected to be in September. Due to this, a significantly larger amount of waste has accumulated at the city’s recycling centres, and the emptying of bins has slowed down.

[visual-link-preview encoded=”eyJ0eXBlIjoiZXh0ZXJuYWwiLCJwb3N0IjowLCJwb3N0X2xhYmVsIjoiIiwidXJsIjoiaHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuaWNlbGFuZHJldmlldy5jb20vbWFnYXppbmUvZnVsbGNpcmNsZS8iLCJpbWFnZV9pZCI6LTEsImltYWdlX3VybCI6Imh0dHBzOi8vd3d3LmljZWxhbmRyZXZpZXcuY29tL3dwLWNvbnRlbnQvdXBsb2Fkcy8yMDIzLzA0L0Z1bGwtY2lyY2xlX3dlYi0xMDI0eDU3Ni5wbmciLCJ0aXRsZSI6IkZ1bGwgQ2lyY2xlIiwic3VtbWFyeSI6IkljZWxhbmQgaXMgdGFraW5nIHN0ZXBzIHRvd2FyZCBhIGNpcmN1bGFyIGVjb25vbXkuIE1lZXQgdGhlIGlubm92YXRvcnMgd2hvIGFyZSBtYWtpbmcgaXQgaGFwcGVuISIsInRlbXBsYXRlIjoic3BvdGxpZ2h0In0=”]

Combustible Waste to Be Sent to Sweden

recycling iceland

The management of SORPA has entered into negotiations with Stena Recycling AB regarding the reception of combustible waste from the capital area for incineration in Sweden. Plans are currently underway to begin exporting combustible waste by autumn.

Read more: Milk Cartons Sent Abroad for Incineration

With this agreement, Icelandic waste will be utilized for energy production in Sweden instead of being disposed of in Iceland. It is estimated that 43,000 tonnes of combustible waste will be exported annually for incineration.

Stena’s offer was approximately 35% below SORPA’s cost estimate, which will potentially lower the impact on SORPA’s tariff schedule. The export of combustible waste will lead to a substantial reduction of approximately 65% in waste disposal at the Álfsnes facility compared to 2022. According to a statement by SORPA, the export will also significantly decrease waste accumulation nationwide and mitigate the negative impacts of the disposal site on local communities.

Read more: Milk Cartons to Be Recycled in Sweden

Notably, Icelandic waste management practices have recently come under critique when it came to light that milk cartons, which were supposed to be recycled domestically, had been sent abroad for incineration for years.


[visual-link-preview encoded=”eyJ0eXBlIjoiaW50ZXJuYWwiLCJwb3N0IjoxNTc2NTUsInBvc3RfbGFiZWwiOiJQb3N0IDE1NzY1NSAtIEZ1bGwgQ2lyY2xlIiwidXJsIjoiIiwiaW1hZ2VfaWQiOjE1NzY2MSwiaW1hZ2VfdXJsIjoiaHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuaWNlbGFuZHJldmlldy5jb20vd3AtY29udGVudC91cGxvYWRzLzIwMjMvMDQvRnVsbC1jaXJjbGVfd2ViLnBuZyIsInRpdGxlIjoiRnVsbCBDaXJjbGUiLCJzdW1tYXJ5IjoiIiwidGVtcGxhdGUiOiJzcG90bGlnaHQifQ==”]

Milk Cartons Sent Abroad for Incineration, Not Recycled Domestically

Under a new recycling law introduced last year, Icelanders are now required to sort recyclables into more bins than before, including plastic, paper, metal and glass, and now, organic waste. One of the most common household recycling items is the cardboard milk carton, which most households dutifully rinse and sort into the paper bin. However, it has come to light through investigative reporting at Heimildin that milk cartons, though recyclable, are not being processed in the manner they are claimed to be.

Instead of sending the milk cartons to the compactor to be recycled alongside other paper and cardboard, the milk cartons are instead sent to a cement factory on the mainland to be burned in an incinerator.

Full Circle: Read More About Recycling in Iceland

Margrét Gísladóttir, specialist in administration and communication at Icelandic dairy concern Mjólkursamsölun (MS), stated to Morgunblaðið that it was not up to MS to decide how the company’s packages are sorted. Their role, Margrét stated, was to instead encourage consumers to properly sort packages according to the guidelines set by municipalities and government agencies.

Currently, MS buys their packages from Tetra Pak, and Margrét stated to Morgunblaðið that MS is “constantly seeking the best packaging options,” taking into account environmental sustainability and food safety. MS has used its current milk carton since 2017. When it was adopted, it was considered to have a 66% smaller carbon footprint than the previous packaging. The selection was also based on the premise that “if they were properly sorted, they would be more environmentally friendly than other packaging,” according to Margrét.

The local recycling authorities have never provided feedback to Mjólkursamsölun that other packaging options are better, according to Margrét.

Read More: New Recycling Sorting in Reykjavík

Tetra Paks are recyclable, but because they are composed of layers of plastic, paper, and aluminium, they can prove difficult for some waste management systems.

When asked by Heimildin journalists whether such Tetra Pak milk cartons had been recycled properly, officials from SORPA, the municipal association for waste management, could not confirm that this had been the case for the last 16 years.

MS is the largest user of such packaging in Iceland, with around 40 million milk cartons produced and sold annually.



Organic Waste Collection to Begin in Reykjavík Area in May

organic waste Reykjavíkurborg

Residents of the Reykjavík capital area will be able to separate their organic waste for the first time starting next month. New legislation that took effect at the beginning of this year makes it illegal to bury organic waste, such as food scraps, in landfills. Organic waste will be used to produce methane fuel and compost.

New split bins and organic waste bags provided

Reykjavík residences currently have bins for mixed waste, paper and cardboard, and plastic, which residents are expected to sort separately. (Glass and metal are also disposed of separately at community sorting stations or SORPA locations.) Organic waste bins will now be added to the household waste to collect food scraps, including eggshells, leftovers containing fish and bones, and coffee grinds and filters. This organic waste was previously disposed of in mixed waste bins in the capital area.

Despite the addition of a new sorting category for household waste, a notice from the City of Reykjavík says that most residences will not see a change in the number of bins, as split bins will be introduced that have separate compartments for different categories of waste. Implementation will vary between detached homes and multi-family residences such as duplexes, triplexes, and apartment buildings. Municipalities will also provide containers and paper bags for the collection of organic waste.

In addition to the four-category sorting that happens at residences, the number of neighbourhood collection stations for metal, glass, and textile waste will be increased so that there is a station no more than 500 metres from each home. Larger neighbourhood sorting stations will be located no more than a kilometre from each home, where additional containers for paper and plastic will be available.

Organic waste collection will be implemented in phases across the capital area starting next month. All homes are to receive the new bins by autumn 2023.

More information is available on the City of Reykjavík website, though it should be noted that the English-language version is machine translated and may contain errors.

New Recycling Sorting in Reykjavík Next Year

recycling in iceland

Starting next year, Icelandic households will have four bins to sort recycling into.

The changes come in light of new regulations in waste management, which include a restructuring of the collection of waste disposal fees, and a coordinated waste management system for the entire capital region.

One of the biggest changes for the average household, however, is that it will now be required for Icelandic households to properly recycle organic waste. A new bin is being introduced, which will be for organic material.

Reykjavík households will also need to use biodegradable paper bags for their organic waste instead of plastic. However, households will be receiving a year’s worth of paper bags. Biodegradable plastic bags have not been found by SORPA to degrade fast enough to be used.

Paper and plastic recycling bins will also disappear from communal locations, as these will now be picked up at all households.

It has not yet been decided to what extent households will share in the costs of the new system, though it will certainly require some changes. Households will need to have all four bins, but it has been stated that it may be possible for households to use two-part bins, which separate between plastic and paper, for instance.

Transparent Bags Save 1,200 Tonnes of Trash from Landfill Annually

recycling in iceland

The amount of unsorted trash that is landfilled by SORPA in the Reykjavík capital area has reduced by 18% since the waste management company began requiring customers to use transparent garbage bags. This is the equivalent of 1,200 tonnes of trash diverted from landfill per year. SORPA’s research prior to the intiative suggested that just over half of the waste taken to its sorting centres for landfilling could be diverted.

In July 2021, new rules took effect at SORPA requiring all mixed waste brought to sorting centres to be in transparent bags. The clear bags are intended to help staff at sorting centres assist customers in sorting the trash appropriately. The initiative was modelled on similar programs in other Nordic countries and is intended to “support the implementation of the circular economy, which is based on reducing waste, using things for longer, recycling, and reusing,” according to a notice from SORPA.

Read More: How Iceland is dealing with its waste

The notice states that the sale of transparent garbage bags in the capital area has increased from three out of every 100 bags to 50 out of every 100. SORPA expects the proportion to grow as awareness of the campaign spreads. The company also plans to implement an ISK 500 [$3.85/€3.49] charge for each black garbage bag brought to sorting centres.

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.

Dirty Little Secrets

Reykjavík sewage Veitur

I’d wager you’ll sit down at a toilet today. Who knows what you’re doing in there, but if you’re in Reykjavík – you’ll flush the remains. But have you ever wondered what happens after the flush? Where all of it goes? The short answer: out to sea. For the longest time, that was the long answer, as well, as sewage went untreated into the ocean.

This content is only visible under subscription. Subscribe here or log in.

Continue reading

City of Reykjavík to Begin Collecting Organic Waste

Grundarhverfi will be the first district of Reykjavík to start separating organic waste in a pilot project which begins next month. Residents of the district are invited to a meeting tomorrow where the project will be presented. The City of Reykjavík plans to introduce separate collection of organic waste throughout the city in 2020.

While residents of Reykjavík can separate plastic, paper, metal, and glass for recycling, there is no special collection of organic waste, which instead is grouped together will landfill waste. The pilot project in Grundarhverfi will begin in November, and will give the city an opportunity to test out equipment and fine-tune the collection system.

The pilot project is expected to continue through next year, until a new composting plant currently under construction is completed. The waste collected in the pilot will be buried.

Grundarhverfi is the least populous district under the jurisdiction of the City of Reykjavík, and is located north of Mosfellsbær. Residents who participate in the project will be surveyed on their experience after the project concludes.

Icelandic Waste Exported to Europe

recycling in iceland

Waste from South Iceland is being used in the Netherlands to heat houses and in Denmark to produce electricity, Vísir reports. The export is a recent development and was spurred by the closure of a landfill in the region.

After a landfill site in the municipality of Ölfus was closed, South Iceland towns have had difficulties finding a final resting place for their waste. No other municipality was willing to dedicate land area to a new disposal site, and waste from the region was driven long distances to other parts of the country. Now some municipalities in the region, including Ölfus, have begun to export their waste.

Jón Þórir Frantzson is the director of Íslenska gámafélagið (IGF), which manages waste for many Icelandic municipalities, industrial firms, and businesses. He says the export has gotten off to a good start. “They sort all the waste into four categories. One category is that which is called non-recyclable and that we’ve exported to Rotterdam for the past three months and that is used for heating Dutch people’s houses and that’s gone very well. Of course this is the second-worst option but it’s good in the sense that there we’re talking about incineration, which is in competition with coal and nuclear energy. We know that coal is very environmentally bad and nuclear energy is very dangerous, so this is something that’s positive.”

Jón says the waste is being transported in containers that were otherwise returning to Europe empty. He hopes to arrange for all South Iceland municipalities to export their waste abroad. “We have also made contracts with Aalborg [in Denmark] as 31% of all the electricity which is produced in Aalborg is produced in a waste incinerator and all the water which is heated in houses goes through the waste incinerator.” Jón says there are more countries interested in importing waste from Iceland.