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Eija-Liisa Markkula: Most excellent service

Eija-Liisa Markkula | 20.12.2019

I need to pop out for some groceries. I can’t see a thing, but I’m used to it – I just grab my white cane from the corner of the hall, and off I go!

The wind is tugging at my empty red Marimekko bag and is sending the last of the dried up maple leaves scuttling along the pavement. The street is quiet. It’s almost seven in the evening. I know it’s dark – but I can manage equally well in broad daylight and in the dark.

In the daytime, the noise of the road works is louder than the cars, and it’s dangerous for me to cross the street alone. However, the working day is done, and the machines have fallen silent. The ten-minute walk to the grocery store goes by swiftly. I take a turn at a corner, and my grocery store is only 70 steps away. I don’t need to count – sooner or later my cane will hit an advertisement stand on the street. For me, the stand is the store sign. I’ve reached my destination. We – the visually impaired – oppose advertising street stands, but there are significant personal exceptions to every rule!

After arriving at the store, I stop close to the entrance. Unlike other customers, I don’t navigate the aisles. Instead, the “most excellent service” starts here. First the cashier notices me, and passes the message on to another staff member. Soon someone will come and help me – today it’s Hanna, who greets me cheerfully and asks whether I want a trolley. “Yes, please. You can put my bag in it.” She pulls the trolley, and I follow, with my hands on the bar. I’ve memorised my shopping list. Hanna informs me about any special offers and mentions the “best before” dates on the products I choose. I prefer Finnish products, but this is not a strict principle. For fresh foods, I want to know the country of origin. She also tells me about new products. I often buy something new, something that I’ve not tried before. I’d love to have themed weeks in my grocery store for French products, for example, or Swiss chocolate.

At the cash desk, we place the items onto the conveyor belt, and Hanna starts packing my purchases while I pay. I use my loyal customer’s Plussa benefits, and use contactless payment if the total is within the limit. Here I can also collect any parcels that I have received. Hanna has already packed my groceries; my red Marimekko bag is chock-full of items. I thank her at the front door. “See you soon!” she says. “See you!” I respond.

Every time I leave the store grateful and in a good mood. It would be impossible for me to go shopping on my own in a modern grocery store that is quite large. People ask me why I don’t just shop online and have my groceries delivered to my door. I don’t want to. I want to go to the grocery store when it best suits me, without making an appointment with an assistant. I want to be just another person on the street. It’s beyond wonderful that my grocery store offers assistance for visually impaired customers and that the staff have been provided with training and act very professionally. I’ve heard that some other stores also provide a similar service, which is great!

I have to walk up a steep hill back home, and I realise it was not a good idea to buy so much stuff. My bag is too heavy for this! Nevertheless, I love my neighbourhood, the Kallio district of Helsinki. It’s a wonderful and easy place to live for a visually impaired person because of its varied elevations. I lived here as a student, when I could still see. Work took me elsewhere, but I came back after I had lost my vision. Visual memories from back then help me a great deal. Someone calls my name. It’s Taina from my building – she is walking her dog, Bella. We exchange a few words. Suddenly it starts to rain. A passer-by picks up their pace and begins to run. I listen to their rapid steps fade away, and I think to myself that to be able to run you need to be able to see. I continue at my own pace.

Eija-Liisa Markkula
Chair of Cultural Service for the Visually Impaired and a customer of K-Market Kallio
K-Market Kallio in Helsinki has paid special attention to the needs of its visually impaired customers for years.

Recycling waste is beneficial and important for the environment. Unfortunately, the economy does not yet follow this principle. The value of recycled material does not cover the costs of its collection and processing because virgin raw materials are available at lower prices.

Finnish Packaging Recycling RINKI Ltd launched a consumer campaign in the summer to encourage Finns to recycle packaging. It’s always good weather for returning packaging to a Rinki eco take-back point!

In a system based on producer responsibility, retail and industrial companies cover the costs of collecting and recycling packaging. The producers of packaging are responsible for organising recycling when the packaging has served its purpose. This responsibility is managed in good cooperation with waste management companies. 

Finns sort their packaging waste diligently. Nevertheless, we have only taken the first steps towards the sustainable use of materials and energy. There is plenty of room for improvement, and improve we must. The less waste we produce, the better. The Ministry of the Environment is currently drafting the new Waste Act, which will come into effect in July 2020. The goal is for Finns to sort nearly all of their household waste. Sorting runs smoothly when you find the routines that suit you best.

Many people living in blocks of flats or terraced houses already have collection bins for packaging waste in their building’s waste collection point. For others, there are collection points near stores across Finland. The network of Rinki eco take-back points covers all cities, towns and urban areas in Finland, from Hanko in the south to Utsjoki in the north. It’s convenient to return packaging to a Rinki eco take-back point when visiting a store. This also minimises emissions from transport. There are currently 413 Rinki eco take-back points located at Kesko store sites, and more than half of these also include collection points for plastic packaging.

Sorting waste is easy if you keep this rule of thumb in mind: if you have packaging and it is paperboard, glass, metal or plastic, you can return it to a Rinki eco take-back point or the collection bin in your building. Sorting packaging waste is an easy way to help the environment.
Juha-Heikki Tanskanen
Finnish Packaging Recycling RINKI Ltd

“I have been given advice and gained self-confidence in dealing with matters independently, and have also learned about housekeeping. I know I am not alone in these matters and can ask for help if I need it.”

These are the words of a young person who has received support in gaining independence from the Red Cross Youth Shelter in Espoo. This is just one of the young people whose path from childhood home to independent life is filled with complications. A young person can just as easily start their independent life by decorating their own home as they can by being homeless and in a downward spiral of payday loans.

In Finland, there is an unyielding belief that young people must gain independence early on. Young people are required to make education choices that affect their whole lives very early on. At the same time, we know that families’ financial and social resources to support young people's choices vary widely.

All doors open – or closed?

A family’s lack of finances can limit a young person's ability to live their youth fully – to study what they want, engage in inspiring pastimes, and spend meaningful free time with friends. Studies show that almost one in five young people has to narrow down their study options due to lack of money. Reaching the age of 17 is a distinct turning point. This is when child benefits stop, when free basic education ends and upper secondary education starts and students are required to purchase most of their study materials themselves.

On an international scale, young people in Finland move out of their childhood home at an early age, at about 22, irrespective of how ready they are to do this. The family’s support strongly influences how the young person experiences this gaining of independence.

Making dreams come true

Being able to dream should be considered a fundamental human right. Dreams are particularly important fuel in the lives of young people on the brink of adulthood. For them, independence is, at its best, a time of liberating self-analysis and adventure.

However, in the youth shelters we encounter a lot of people who simply can’t afford to dream. When the challenge of surviving everyday life takes away the chance to dream, it's easier to get stuck in the moment than to look to the future. The current social subsidies and income transfers fail to ensure all young people an equal right to become independent safely and at their own pace.

The right to feel safe and the ability to sit back and dream always go hand in hand. In the midst of poverty, it is difficult to feel safe and trusting. As a young person gains a sense of trust and security they will also gain the courage to dream, free of shortages and fear – both in the current moment and in the future.

The Hyvä Joulumieli Christmas fundraising campaign for impoverished families with children, organised by the Finnish Red Cross and the Mannerheim League for Child Welfare, will continue until Christmas Eve.

Leena Suurpää
Director of Youth Shelters
Finnish Red Cross

A plant-based diet is healthier for people and more sustainable for the environment. There has been a lot of talk about reducing meat consumption in recent years, but we have yet to see a dramatic change. However, according to young people, they are about to change the situation.

Last year, we conducted a study for the ScenoProt project, examining the views of young people on nutrition, diet and how they expect eating habits to change over the next ten years. 300 people between the ages of 16 and 22 across Finland responded to the survey.

According to the results, a large majority of the young respondents believe they will eat more vegetables and plant-based protein in the future. Half of the respondents expected to reduce their consumption of meat.

The survey showed that young people have sensible and reality-based ideas on what constitutes healthy, and on average, are reasonably well-informed on issues related to nutrition. The respondents were first asked to estimate their own level of knowledge. They were then asked to answer questions that measured that knowledge. Most respondents had a fairly good level of knowledge, but on average, the people interested in vegetarian food were slightly better informed than the rest. There is a clear correlation, but we could not establish causation.

A clear majority of the respondents were omnivores. Approximately 7% considered themselves vegetarians to some degree (~1-2% vegans), and some 20% often ate vegetarian dishes or had vegetarian days at least once a week. The percentages echo those of other studies conducted on this topic in recent years. Young women are clearly more interested in plant-based foods than young men. Since as according to the National FinDiet 2017 Survey by the National Institute for Health and Welfare, the food habits of adults and men in particular are currently far removed from recommendations, we can easily identify some of the key challenges for our food system.

We need to come up with ideas on how to make young men eat healthier. As forcing rarely leads to good results, we need to rather make the product selections, communication and positioning more versatile and appealing to a wider audience.

Young people welcome new plant-based (and other) food innovations. Over 80% of the respondents in our survey stated they were at least somewhat interested in trying out new food products as long as it was made sufficiently easy. One-fifth were even happy to put in a little effort to be able to try out new products.

There is thus fertile ground for new plant-based food products, and this opens up many new possibilities for the Finnish food chain. Hopefully, we’ll also be able to export more Finnish food innovations abroad.


Antti Isokangas

Development Manager

Makery Oy

In our grandparents’ day, it was normal to repair broken or damaged clothes. Clothes were also made to last and you might wear the same shirt for years. Finally, when it could no longer be worn, your shirt would be made into dusters.

This is precisely what the circular economy is all about. Products are manufactured ethically and designed to withstand wear and tear.

According to a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which studies circular economy, the textile industry is a significant source of environmental pollution at various stages of production, it requires a significant amount of water and production space, and in many countries it causes negative social impacts. The textile industry releases more carbon dioxide emissions into our climate than air traffic and shipping combined.

Coupled with the fact that more and more garments are being made all the time and their life span is constantly decreasing, we can easily see that this produces, among other problems, an increasing amount of textile waste. With today's technology, it is still challenging to recycle this waste in a cost-effective way other than as energy, although promising technologies are being developed all the time.

According to the Foundation’s report, the fastest way to promote circular economy is to extend the life cycle of textiles by using them for as long as possible. By using textiles for a longer period of time, we produce less waste. This is something our grandparents knew, but at some point we forgot.

Lindström extends the life span of textiles in its rental services by, for example, repairing them.

Lindström has been selected each year for Sitra's list of the most interesting companies in the circular economy because of the above solution: we extend the life cycle of textiles. We provide all our textiles as a rental service and make sure they are in use for as long as possible. We recycle the textiles during use for different purposes and, if possible, even between different customers.

We are proud to say that, using a corresponding model, we are also working with K Group, which has been ranked as the most sustainable trading sector company in the world. K Group has worked with us for many years to ensure the efficient use of textiles in its various operations.

Harri Puputti

Vice President, Quality

Lindström Oy

I live circular economy both at home and at work. Recycling bottles, cans, packaging materials, newspapers and magazines is an everyday thing in our two-person household: my husband handles beverage packaging, while I take care of the rest of our recycling. In my workplace at the Sinebrychoff brewing company, I am proud to say we recycle all materials and have reduced the consumption of plastics.

Finland has an easy and convenient recycling system for beverage packaging. Thanks to considerable efforts by grocery stores and beverage manufacturers, we have established a nationwide system that is one of the central pillars of sustainable Finland, and many other countries look to our model for inspiration. PET bottles are the most recycled form of plastic packaging in Finland: 90% of the bottles get reused as material. Let’s aim to make that figure 100% – we can do it!

Our company Sinebrychoff – which celebrates its 200th anniversary this year – recycles all material. By-products of beer manufacture such as mash and yeast are used as feed for cattle and pigs, while carbon dioxide produced during beer fermentation is recovered, purified and reused for Coca-Cola. Moreover, process heat is used to heat up our Kerava facility, which is the size of 16 football fields.

In soft drink packaging, we primarily use aluminium cans and plastic bottles, both light packaging materials compared with glass. As packaging materials tie up natural resources, the less material is used, the smaller the packaging’s carbon footprint. Sometimes small innovations can have a big impact if the scale is big enough: a couple of years ago we decided to shorten the necks of Coca-Cola bottles by 4 millimetres, while slightly widening the caps. This decreased our plastics consumption by nearly 500,000 kilos in 2018, equal to more than 20 million half-litre plastic bottles.


Coca-Cola’s half-litre bottles are 50% recycled plastic, 15% bio-based plastic. Shorter bottlenecks significantly reduce plastic usage.

Material choices can also be used to reduce the carbon footprint of plastic bottles. That is why Coca-Cola bottles are made from recycled plastic and bio-based plastic. Recycled PET bottles have a smaller footprint than similar-sized glass and aluminium packaging.

Marja-Liisa Weckström

Vice President, Corporate Affairs


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