Jenni Rahkonen Interview with Bangladesh Textile Journal

Jenni Rahkonen | Environmental Coordinator | City of Lahti, Finland
Jenni Rahkonen Interview with Bangladesh Textile Journal

Lahti, often referred to as the “Sustainable Green City of Europe,” has garnered international recognition for its exceptional commitment to environmental sustainability and innovative green initiatives. Positioned as a paradigm of forward-thinking urban planning, Lahti has emerged as a model city that prioritizes eco-friendly practices and sets an example for sustainable development across Europe.

Lahti’s remarkable journey towards becoming a sustainable green city encompasses a spectrum of pioneering initiatives. From its visionary urban design that integrates green spaces and eco-friendly architecture, to its comprehensive waste management strategies that emphasize recycling and waste reduction, Lahti has forged a holistic approach to environmental preservation.

Today, we have Jenni Rahkonen, Environmental Coordinator of the City of Lahti with Bangladesh Textile Journal. We will have an exclusive discussions on various topics about the initiator city of Lahti, the green city of Europe, stories behind their success and future plan.

BTJ: How it all started? The starting of making the collection points for textile waste in four collection points in the city by giving small incentives, tell us more about it.

Jenni Rahkonen: Inspired by the country’s (Finland) highly effective deposit system for beverage containers, we wanted to pilot an incentive-based system for recycling textiles. An average of 3 kilos of textile per person (in Finland) waste ends up incinerated each year. It’s about one grocery bag’s worth of fabrics and fibers that could be salvaged for further use. Recycling of textiles became a lot easier this year, as separate collection points for discarded textiles were rolled out throughout Finland.

The textile deposit is a great example of an everyday innovation that directly aims to minimize the amount of waste and showcases the potential of discarded textiles as a raw material for industries and design.

The project started on late spring and was launched in the end of May (2023). Adopting a culture of experimentation can truly benefit cities and organizations and increase awareness fairly short time, in this case textile recycling.

Company “Salpakierto”, a municipal company that operates waste management in the Lahti region, has currently six collection points for textile waste. In 2023, the collection points have averaged around 420 kg of recycled textiles per week, averaging around 70 kg per collection point.

The Textile Deposit has been a runaway success. With the Textile Deposit scheme, the weekly result for a single collection point was 350 kg of textiles, which is five times the previous amount. The results we’ve seen are a positive signal for systemic incentives for recycling. A nationwide deposit-based recycling system for textiles could give a significant boost to the recycling rate.

Textile Deposit Scheme was organized in collaboration with Salpakierto and LAB University of Applied Sciences. The feedback was very positive, and we encourage other cities and countries to pilot deposit to increase the recycling rate. The pilot is funded by the city of Lahti.

In addition to the textile deposit system, a competition was launched to find solutions to use the collected textile waste.

The goal of the competition is to explore innovative and feasible applications and commercial opportunities for discarded textiles and recycled textile fibers. Through this competition, Lahti aims to promote the circularity of textiles and highlight the potential of discarded textiles as a raw material for industry and design.

The competition is looking for impactful and innovative ideas or product concepts that make use of discarded textiles and recycled textile fiber in a significant way. At the same time, the competition will showcase the potential and the principles of circular economy. the results of the competition will be published in September.

BTJ: As Lahti has set an official goal of becoming a zero-waste city by 2050, I am sure you have a plan of action behind it, would you like to tell us all the detail about the plan.

Jenni Rahkonen: Lahti became the first Finnish city to win the European Commission’s prestigious European Green Capital Award (EGCA) in 2021. Winning the EGCA is a recognition of the long-term environmental work of Lahti as the leading environmental city in Finland. Lahti’s Green Capital year further strengthened the city’s profile also as a global pioneer in environmental sustainability.

  • Lahti is the world’s 4th most sustainable city
  • Lahti has been selected as one of Europe’s top one hundred climate-neutral and smart cities in 2022.
  • Lahti has hosted FIS Nordic World Ski Championship seven times over the years and 100 years of FIS Nordic World Cups
  • Lahti is European Green Capital 2021
  • Salpausselkä ridges can be seen from space
  • UNESCO Global Geo-park designation to Salpausselkä Geopark in 2022
  • Lahti was listed as one of the best destinations to go – by CNN Travel.

Lahti is a trailblazer in combating climate change. Lahti has turned its circular economy expertise into a growth-orientated business, and more than 99% of the city’s solid municipal waste is now either recycled or converted into energy. The cleantech sector employs almost 5,000 experts in the region. Lahti aims to have a zero-waste circular economy by 2050.

We have published the city level circular economy roadmap. We involved in the development and planning discussions and workshops more than 100 participants from city units, companies, universities and schools, companies and NGOs. The themes where we are concentrating are education, construction, material flows, food system and public procurement. At the same time, we are communicating actively with citizens about what circular economy means in practice.

BTJ: As you have said “separate collection of textile waste is set to be rolled out across the EU by 2025”, are there any other cities in Europe who are doing like the city of Lahti is doing to collect textile waste to be recycled and to reuse.

Jenni Rahkonen: In Finland, the local waste legislation changed in the beginning of 2023 and the textile waste collection from households started all around Finland. Finland wanted to be a forerunner and start collecting textile waste and in developing the recycling and waste management market for recycled textiles. The first recycling factory started for household textile waste started operation in 2022.

In many European countries (and cities) reusable textiles is collected for further reuse or retail in second hand markets. Textile waste is also collected from industry and companies and used to produce new materials. But in separate textile waste collection from households, Finland is a forerunner.

BTJ: What kind of appreciation you are receiving from around the World for this wonderful initiatives to become a city of zero-waste by 2050.

Jenni Rahkonen: Cities have a major role in making recycling easy for people. As a leading environmental city, Lahti wants to be at the forefront of leading the conversation on how cities can lead the change into a more sustainable lifestyle. As most Europeans live in cities the size of Lahti, the city sets an excellent example for an enormous number of people.

The new EU directive directs cities to improve textile recycling. Our future depends on a circular economy, but it can’t just be the consumers’ responsibility to take care of recycling. With this pilot, we want to ask what countries, cities, and companies can do to help make recycling easier and more attractive to people. Deposits have worked well before in Finland, maybe there could be one for textiles in the future.

During the textile deposit pilot, we have had interesting discussions with various organizations, companies, associations, universities, and local schools. It remains to be seen what kind of cooperation we will have in the future.

BTJ: If some city in Asia wish to learn more on how to be a waste-free city, will they have any sort of supports and guidelines from you?

Jenni Rahkonen: I see the biggest challenge is to change the way we all think. The current model, the linear model it’s about making, using and throwing away. But in circular economy there is no throwing away-phase but the materials are used again and again. And that’s why all the products and services need to be designed so that they are sustainable, have a long life time, and it’s possible to fix and maintain them. The business models need to be different, and the price of buying things is not the only thing that matters but also the life-cycle cost and the environmental effects are as important.

In the future, there will be shortage of materials and energy so wasting what we already have is just not either sustainable or very wise. It is really important to have policy makers and local politicians on board. We also see that when the city is developing environmental issues, it’s also doing well for both the wellbeing of citizens in improving their health as well as the local economy: the vitality and new business in the area.

It’s also about thinking and preparing for the future as we see that more and more environmental work is necessary in the coming years. There are so many opportunities in circular economy and aiming to become a waste-free city. It will be a method to reduce the consumption of raw materials and emissions.

BTJ: To collect textile waste, what kind of incentives have you offered to the citizens that they are more active to throw their textile waste in located point?

Jenni Rahkonen: The citizens got a small reward when they returned a full bag of textile waste to the collection point. We applied the refund system with the local companies operating in the shopping mall where the collection point was located. Two cafe shop entrepreneurs offering free coffee tickets participated in our textile waste collection pilot. In addition, it was possible for a citizen to choose a swimming pool ticket to the local outdoor pool.

In addition, the location of the collection point was really important: it was located inside a shopping mall, just in the middle of the city canter, next to a city service office. This way it was easy for citizens to arrive also by walking and by public transport as well as bring the textile waste at the same time as they were running other errands.

A third and really important part of the campaign was wide communication campaign about the importance of collecting and utilizing textile waste as well as the harmful effects of textile industry but also the great possibilities of recycled textile material through local media channels: a comprehensive and informative webpage, articles and advertising in newspapers, media releases, social media ads as well as outdoor and indoor advertising.

BTJ: To me it’s a great surprise when I have heard Finns recycle their 97% of aluminum cans, it is already a huge success in recycling cans. I wonder if I could learn more about the whole waste management system that the city of Lahti has implemented. And also interested to know about the plastic waste management in the city of Lahti, in a few words.

Jenni Rahkonen: According to the Finnish waste legislation and thus also in Lahti, properties with 5 or more households must in the coming years have separate bins for bio-waste (food waste), mixed waste, paper, cardboard packaging, glass packaging, plastic packaging and metal (different timetables for shifting to these regulations depends on housing type and the waste fraction).

In addition, batteries and WEEE are collected separately in specific stores for free. The refund system for aluminum cans, plastic bottles and glass bottles is implemented all around Finland and a collection point is found in every grocery store. And yes, the refund system works very well with really high recycling rates and this is what inspired us to test the textile refund system.

BTJ: Do you think it will be the same for a large inhabitant city like Dhaka or Delhi, can implement the way Lahti has implemented to be a waste free city though Lahti has only around 130,000 inhabitant?

Jenni Rahkonen: Of course, there are differences in different sized cities so all the learnings can’t be copied to other cities. However, I see that circularity and waste-free thinking has is here to stay and the whole world has to change the way we consume natural resources and energy. Thus the same methods and

BTJ: What are the real challenges inside the 2050 roadmap for Lahti?

Jenni Rahkonen: The way to change our traditional way of thinking. Circular economy needs also some possibility to take small risks during the development process. That is why the city management needs to support and encourage the staff to think in a new way and find more sustainable solutions.

BTJ: Would you like to share any tips to Asian cities where there’s a lot more textile wastage are gathered in every single day, not recycled rather dumped for landfill.

Jenni Rahkonen: It is important both to create a working collection system but as well develop the whole production chain of textile industry. More solutions where recycled textile waste is used is necessary. At the same time, the quality of textile products should become more valuable factor than the quantity. Cities can support businesses that promote circular economy in their design, production and waste management. As well cities can make communication campaigns for citizens to change the current behavior of consumption and promote more sustainable life style changes. As well, city can provide the collection infrastructure for textile waste.


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