While moving along the Eastern border of the EU, environmental awareness increases as you go north. Finland serves as a good example for its southern neighbours. Estonia is the best pupil in class so far. Latvia and Lithuania are slowly beginning to implement environmentally friendly measures, oftentimes with Finnish support.
During my stay in Kajaani, I am hosted by Jani (33, photo) and Trisha (33, Australian) who tell me about their observations of the Finnish environmental sensitivity.
`Ecological education starts in the early school years`
Multiple bins in the kitchen
Ecological education starts in school years and, silently, lasts for a lifetime. TV advertisements tell people about how they can save the environment. Separating garbage is the norm rather than exception, and people have separate garbage containers for biological waste, paper/bottles/tins, toxic waste, or ordinary trash. Failing to participate in the separation and recycling concept is frowned upon. Trisha tells me that exchange students have difficulties getting used to the system, because most countries outside Scandinavia simply do not have the same mindset when it comes to the conscious consumption.
Garbage collection of plastic and non-degradable or recyclable materials is provided by corporate companies, who charge for each passage along somebody`s house. It is therefore advantageous to pile up waste, which in turn makes people aware of the quantity of waste they actually produce - then leading them to produce less garbage in the end. Only toxic waste is taken care of by the municipality. Biological leftovers are put on compost belts in people`s gardens, or separately taken to the appropriate containers in biodegradable bags. Trains are also equipped with these thin plastic bags and cleaning the train is a quick procedure - just tearing the bag off and the next one will become available. Paper gets burnt in the heating, while empty bottles and cans are taken back to the supermarket in return for recycling money. Or left on the streets, so homeless people can collect some money by taking the materials back to the supermarket and `cashing` their treasures.
Supermarkets help people take note of the environment, by not offering plastic bags free of charge. Instead, customers can buy three alternatives: paper, plastic or linen bags, but none of these free-of-charge. Electrical equipment can be taken to special depots at no cost. Devices will be disassembled there, and usable parts are recycled. The forest industry contributes by planting replacement trees for the ones they take down. The paper and forest industry are simply very important and Finland cannot afford any wood shortages. Finnish companies are renowned for their expertise in environmentally friendly solutions in industrial projects. They are consulted in environment-related projects all over the world.
`Environmental consciousness is not the only reason for people to care about nature`, I am told by Jani. National and local authorities have created special arrangements to promote environmentally friendly equipment and behaviour. Subsidies for house isolation or other energy-saving solutions in and around the home. On the less favourable side, fines for improper behaviour, such as handing in unsorted or improperly sorted garbage. Taxes on car possession are high, but in a country as sparsely populated as Finland, people simply need cars. Public transportation works well, but for financial reasons it is not worth expanding the network into rural areas.
From my own observations, I can tell that the streets are clean, even in the cities. The air is fresh, forest and lakes are all around. Finns like to walk in the forest and swim in the lake, and they tend to know exactly which lake is better than which other one. The general idea is that humans should respect nature. There is not even much chance not to: winter will tell you that nature imposes its rules on people and not the other way around.
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