One top notch innovation from Europe is being paid to recycle things. In Finland on all drinks and beer cans you will see the words PANTTI- €0.15, and in Germany too, but there it’s called ‘Pfand’, and I don’t know how much the cost is. This is on plastic bottles too, and is sometimes 25 cents, and all in all it acts like a ransom on the container, where you get the money back when you return it to a recycling chute in many shops around the city. Of course you don’t get really get given free money- the ransom fund was simply added on to the original price in the first place , making it even more of a great idea. It means that recycling is changed from the petty task of misguided flower power do-gooders to a ‘Dellboy and Rodney’ style money making operation, with a morning after the party scramble to tidy up unseen in the history of the world. It gives a nice €30 bounty for whoever takes out the rubbish bags, and makes picking up cans and bottles from the street, pond or river worth the time and money, and a normal occurrence. It’s annoying very occasionally, drinking a can of mountain dew and then having to carry the can around with you for the rest of the day like one of this hedgehogs that collect rubbish, the wurzels or whatever they were called- (The Wombles, in fact), but you’d have to be pretty damn lazy to think this wasn’t in general a good idea. It also in a strange twist of fate provides a small income to very poor people, who in theory tidy the streets and get paid for it. This creates strange situations though where throwing an empty bottle or can into a hedge , leaving it on the pavement or many other forms of littering can be genuinely seen as giving money to the poor and you being a good and responsible person, as i have often seen by Finnish adults and students on a day to day basis, including my Kummi student (the guy who looks after new Erasmus students) throwing cans onto beaches , parks , grass and roads ,left right and centre in front of all us new students and telling us that ‘strange little people take them away so its ok’. It also means you may see people rooting through bins and garbage containers to find these items, and if you drink a drink outside then people may ask you if you have finished with the beer and offer to take away the can from you, which may be a strange experience to some, especially when you’re not sure if your meant to thank them for cleaning up your rubbish or if they should thank you for the 15 cents. But all in all, anything that makes recycling cool and popular, gives, albeit small, money making opportunities to the disadvantaged and keeps the streets and natural areas clean can’t be a bad thing. 15 cents may seem like a lot for one can, but seeing as there are no 1 or 2 cents in Finland due to inflation (all prices are rounded up or down to the nearest 5 cents), 5 cents is the new one cent, and 15 cents is technically 3 pence, even though in the bureau de change 15 cents is actually 12 pence, but hey, welcome to Finland.
The system comes unstuck when slightly damaged cans or bottles are not accepted, and when only Finnish cans are accepted by the Finnish machine, so equally valid and far cheaper beer cans bought in Estonia cannot be cashed in. They can still be recycled but you don’t get any money, so the true flint hearted capitalists among us discard and don’t recycle these because of this. I reckon we should get this system everywhere in the world, on every product, and then people could/would recycle everything.
On Oulu Past:
I also had the good fortune to meet and talk to a Bangladeshi woman, whose father was one of the first foreign students in Oulu, just one generation ago. She told me about growing up as the only non-Finnish students in her school, of racism then and now, and that when she was a child, of not being able to even find a place that sold RICE in the whole of Oulu. RICE. She spoke fluent Finnish and English, and showed me on a map where I could find the Islamic Society of Northern Finland.
On the Old man of Nallikari:
Also, I went to Nallikari and then walked a kilometre out to sea to where there were some strange sticks in the ice, marking the ice fishing holes. They had all frozen over , but we walked around a bit more and then a true legendary character turned up on a bicycle- an 80 year old man with a Russian/Mongolian-style wolfskin hat and a frozen moustache cycled across the sea to the ice hole we were looking at. At first I thought he was going to tell us to get lost and leave his precious ice fishing hole alone, because many of them had markings and license tags on them, but he didn’t. Totally unperturbed by our presence, he stopped, got off his bicycle and began preparing his ice fishing line. I knew we were in for a treat. He began to speak to us in Finnish, so we told him in awful Finnish that we were French. He accepted this, and then began readying his tiny ice fishing rod, totally focused on the ice hole, whilst we watched. He kicked the ice hole back open were it had refrozen, then told us in a mix of English and Finnish that he had Alzheimer’s, (still not sure if it was Finnish humour or not), that he was once a gunner on a warship, that he met a woman from Hong Kong and then went to Hong Kong and possibly married her, and that he had no ice hole for himself, and that this ice hole cost 40 euros. He also told as that smoking was very bad and burnt your lungs, and that either he had or he hadn’t smoked for forty years. He lowered the fishing line into the ice hole, and then began looking at the dozen or so islands in the far distance and at the shore behind him, seemingly trying to calculate the depth the fish would be at by triangulating his position from the nearby islands. He fished a little, then received a call from his irate wife for a few minutes, after which he said something complaining about his wife, showed us his wedding ring , then took a photo of us. He got a beer out of his bag which he immediately fumbled, juggled for a few seconds and then dropped. It landed on a jagged ice lump, bursting it and showering us all in beer as he scrambled around on the frozen sea trying to retrieve it as it pirouetted away across the ice, cursing and swearing as he went. He retrieved the beer, drank the dregs, swore some more, and then he was gone, off away on his bike, now just a figment of our imaginations.