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At Least 14 People Dead After Indonesia’s Mount Semeru Erupts

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(LUMAJANG, Indonesia) — Rescuers were sifting through smoldering debris and thick mud in search of survivors a day after the highest volcano on Java island erupted with fury, killing at least 14 people with searing gas and ash.

Mount Semeru in Lumajang district in East Java province spewed thick columns of ash more than 12,000 meters (40,000 feet) into the sky in a sudden eruption Saturday triggered by heavy rains. Villages and nearby towns were blanketed and several hamlets were buried under tons of mud from volcanic debris.

Authorities warned the thousands of people who fled the volcano’s wrath not to return during Sunday’s lull in activity. But some were desperate to check on livestock and possessions left behind. In several areas, everything — from the thinnest tree branch to couches and chairs inside homes — was caked with ash.

“There’s no life there … trees, farms, houses are scorched, everything is covered in heavy gray ash,” said Haryadi Purnomo of East Java’s search and rescue agency. He said that several other areas were virtually untouched.

Search and rescue efforts were temporarily suspended on Sunday afternoon because of fears that hot ash and debris could tumble down from the crater due to heavy rains. On Saturday, a torrent of mud destroyed the main bridge connecting Lumajang and the neighboring district of Malang, as well as a smaller bridge.

The eruption eased pressure that had been building under a lava dome perched on the crater. But experts warned that the dome could still further collapse, causing an avalanche of the blistering gas and debris trapped beneath it.

A thunderstorm and days of rain, which eroded and partly collapsed the dome atop the 3,676-meter (12,060-foot) Semeru, triggered the eruption, said Eko Budi Lelono, who heads the geological survey center.

Semeru, the stratovolcano in the shape of a cone, is also known as Mahameru, meaning “The Great Mountain” in Sanskrit. It has erupted many times over the last 200 years. Still, as with other volcanoes — it is one of 129 under watch in Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago — more than 62,000 people call Sumeru’s fertile slopes home. It last erupted in January, with no casualties.

Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 270 million people, is prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity because it sits along the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” a horseshoe-shaped series of fault lines. Currently, 54% of the country’s population live on Java, the country’s most densely populated area.

Officials said earlier they had hoped they could avoid casualties by closely monitoring the volcano.

National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesperson Abdul Muhari said 56 people had been hospitalized, mostly with burns. He said rescuers were still searching for nine residents of Curah Kobokan village.

More than 1,300 villagers streamed into makeshift emergency shelters after Saturday’s powerful eruption, but many others defied official warnings and chose to remain in their homes, saying they had to tend to their livestock and protect their property, said Purnomo.

“We’ll do everything we can to evacuate them by preparing trucks and motorbikes for them to flee at any time,” he said.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said he instructed his Cabinet ministers and disaster and military officials to coordinate the response. The government pledged to relocate residents from hardest-hit villages to safer places in the next six months and to provide 500,000 rupiah ($34.50) per month in compensation for each family while waiting for new houses.

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The First Relief Flights Have Left for Tonga After the Huge Volcanic Eruption

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — The first flights carrying fresh water and other aid to Tonga were finally able to leave Thursday after the Pacific nation’s main airport runway was cleared of ash left by a huge volcanic eruption.

A C-130 Hercules military transport plane left New Zealand carrying water containers, kits for temporary shelters, generators, hygiene supplies and communications equipment, New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said.

Australia also sent a C-17 Globemaster transport plane with another to follow that were carrying humanitarian supplies. The flights were all due to arrive in Tonga on Thursday afternoon.

The deliveries will be done with no contact because Tonga is desperate to make sure foreigners don’t bring in the coronavirus. It has not had any outbreaks of COVID-19 and has reported just a single case since the pandemic began.

This photo provided by Broadcom Broadcasting shows a damaged area in Nuku’alofa, Tonga, Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022, following Saturday’s volcanic eruption near the Pacific archipelago.
Marian Kupu/Broadcom Broadcasting via AP

“The aircraft is expected to be on the ground for up to 90 minutes before returning to New Zealand,” Defense Minister Peeni Henare said.

U.N. humanitarian officials report that about 84,000 people — more than 80% of Tonga’s population — have been impacted by the volcano’s eruption, U.N. spokesman St?phane Dujarric said, pointing to three deaths, injuries, loss of homes and polluted water.

Communications with Tonga remain limited after Saturday’s eruption and tsunami appeared to have broken the single fiber-optic cable that connects Tonga with the rest of the world. That means most people haven’t been able to use the internet or make phone calls abroad, although some local phone networks are still working.

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A navy patrol ship from New Zealand is also expected to arrive later Thursday. It is carrying hydrographic equipment and divers, and also has a helicopter to assist with delivering supplies.

Officials said the ship’s first task would be to check shipping channels and the structural integrity of the wharf in the capital, Nuku’alofa, following the eruption and tsunami.

Another New Zealand navy ship carrying 250,000 liters (66,000 gallons) of water is on its way. The ship can also produce tens of thousands of liters of fresh water each day using a desalination plant.

In this handout photo provided by the New Zealand Defense Force, an aerial view from a P-3K2 Orion surveillance flight on January 17, 2022 shows heavy ash fall on Nomuka, Tonga.
New Zealand Defense Force via Getty Images

Three of Tonga’s smaller islands suffered serious damage from tsunami waves, officials and the Red Cross said.

The U.N.’s Dujarric said “all houses have apparently been destroyed on the island of Mango and only two houses remain on Fonoifua island, with extensive damage reported on Nomuka.” He said evacuations are underway for people from the islands.

According to Tongan census figures, Mango is home to 36 people, Fonoifua is home to 69 people, and Nomuka to 239. The majority of Tongans live on the main island of Tongatapu, where about 50 homes were destroyed.

Dujarric said the most pressing humanitarian needs are safe water, food and non-food items, and top priorities are reestablishing communication services including for international calls and the internet.

Tonga has so far avoided the widespread devastation that many initially feared.

______

Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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Don’t Expect China to Ease Its Zero-COVID Policy After the Beijing Olympics

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The COVID-19 pandemic has entered its third year. More than 5.5 million lives have been lost around the world. Hospitals in many countries, including the U.S., are once again at crisis point, and coronavirus continues to jeopardize the global economy. And then there’s China. As one of the last countries to follow a zero-COVID policy, the world’s most populous nation has lost fewer than 6,000 of its 1.4 billion people to COVID-19, while expanding its economy by 8.1% in 2021 and registering a record trade surplus.

China has no shortage of critics, who decry its weeks-long city-wide lockdowns as sensational examples of authoritarian excess, and dismiss the zero-COVID approach as a looming failure, bad science or a ploy by the ruling Chinese Communist Party to shore up political control. But without whole-of-society support for the zero-COVID approach, it would be virtually impossible to make 20 million people stay at home over a handful of cases–as China has done in the run up to the Lunar New Year, mostly in the western city of Xi’an and in the northwestern province of Henan.

“Few countries have the ability like China in terms of effectively mobilizing the resources and capacities for pandemic control,” says Dr. Huang Yanzhong, a senior health policy expert from the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR)–not only in terms of “the clear commitment from the top leaders” but also “the overwhelming support from the public.”

Workers disinfect the National Indoor Stadium on April 12, 2021 in Beijing, China.
Hei Jianjun/Beijing Youth Daily/VCG via Getty Images

The comparative fragility of China’s hospital system makes one important reason plain. According to OECD researchers, the U.S. had nearly 26 ICU beds per 100,000 people in 2018. Data from 2017 shows that Germany had nearly 34 per 100,000. By comparison, China in 2017 had fewer than 4 ICU beds for the same headcount. Following a Malthusian strategy of “letting COVID rip” through the country would lead to enormous loss of life.

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The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in February, and the emergence of the highly contagious Omicron variant, will see China’s strategy put to a fresh test. The Chinese capital has reported its first local Omicron transmission, but is hoping to protect the Games with a “closed-loop bubble”–a system by which everybody participating in the Olympics will be physically isolated from the general population. If no major outbreak occurs, it will strengthen Beijing’s argument that its zero-COVID policy was the right approach all along. The strategy does not come cheap–according to the latest available figures, China spent nearly $63 billion in the first eleven months of 2020 to combat COVID-19–but the country appears willing to pay.

China’s zero-COVID approach saves lives

The term “zero-COVID” is a misnomer. “Currently, we are not capable of ensuring there will be no more new domestically transmitted infections,” the head of the National Health Commission’s COVID-19 task force, Liang Wannian, told the state-owned China Daily earlier this month. “But we are capable and confident of stamping out local infection clusters as quickly as possible.”

Sweeping inoculation, tracking and testing are the basis of this approach. According to Reuters, China has administered 2.93 billion does–enough to cover the entire population–and continues to administer more than 6 million does a day. It is notable that China continues to pursue its zero-COVID strategy despite such a high vaccination rate, even making allowances for what many believe to be the lower efficacy of Chinese-made inoculations. Perhaps it indicates an understanding that vaccines reduce the likelihood of severe illness but do not stop the spread of coronavirus.

Instead, there is enormous emphasis on community mitigation measures. Every citizen, foreign resident, and visitor to China is assigned a colored health code after completing a survey via a smartphone app. (Olympics attendees will require a separate app created for the Games.) Those with green status are allowed to move around, enter public facilities and board public transport. Those with red status (meaning that they either have COVID-19 or likely have COVID-19) or yellow status (meaning the holder is a close contact of someone with COVID-19) must be isolated until they recover, or complete quarantine, and acquire green status again.

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Testing is intensive. According to figures cited in the South China Morning Post, more than 8,430 medical institutes in the country can conduct nucleic acid tests on a combined total of 12.55 million samples a day. When a case is found, city-wide and sometimes province-wide lockdowns are implemented, with residents only allowed out once every two days to buy groceries and other essentials.

A medical worker reaches through protective gloves as she places a swab back in its case after administering a nucleic acid test to a client at a private outdoor clinic on December 27, 2021 in Beijing, China.
Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

That is draconian, but what might abandoning zero-COVID mean? The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention says that the country could have as many as 600,000 cases daily if it were to follow the laissez-faire approach of the U.S., U.K., and European countries. (Since the start of the year, China has been reporting between 155 and 230 new cases a day.) The center’s chief epidemiologist Wu Zunyou, estimates that China’s management of COVID-19 has to date prevented 200 million infections and 3 million deaths.

According to Johns Hopkins University data, around 2,500 people per million in the U.S., and roughly 2,200 per million in the U.K., have died of COVID-19, but only three deaths per million in China are attributable to the disease. Dr. Huang of the CFR says China has created a “safe haven” from COVID, where people feel much safer: “There is no doubt China has done a much better job in keeping the disease at bay.”

The politics of zero-COVID

Naturally, the system has its opponents. Chinese novelist Fang Fang was booted out of the Chinese Writers Association, and ostracized by the country’s publishing community, when her candid diary of life in the 2020 Wuhan lockdown was published in the West. A blogger by the name of Zhang Zhan, who angered the authorities with numerous live streams and posts from Wuhan, has been jailed for four years and, according to the BBC, is in rapidly declining health because of her intermittent hunger strikes.

When prominent Shanghai virologist Zhang Wenhong, popularly known as “China’s Anthony Fauci,” took to social media last July to suggest that China had to “return to normal life, while at the same time protecting its citizens from fear of the virus,” he was met with a huge backlash. Some weeks later, the Guardian reported that he had backed down. “The COVID-19 strategy our country has adopted is one that suits us the best at present,” he said.

More recently, public anger was generated during the lockdown in Xi’an, where restrictions came into force on Dec. 22 and have only just started easing. Two women reportedly miscarried, and a man died of a heart attack, because hospital officials refused them entry without COVID-19 test results. Social media was also rife with claims of food shortages, with users on China’s Twitter-like platform, Weibo, claiming that some residents had resorted to barter in order to feed themselves.

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However, official response to these incidents, which garnered international attention, was swift. Authorities redoubled efforts to distribute food to households. Xi’an’s data chief was suspended after contact-tracing apps crashed. Hospital officials were either suspended or fired, with Sun Chunlan, a member of China’s powerful politburo and a vice premier, saying she was “ashamed” over the hospital incidents–adding that medical institutions should not be turning away patients for any reason.

Internationally, the response to China’s zero-COVID strategy has gone from initially cautious praise and admiration to suggestions that Beijing should at least partially relent. Dr. Ooi Eng Eong, an infectious disease expert from the Duke-National University of Singapore Medical School, tells TIME that COVID-19 will never go away in the foreseeable future, so at some point governments should take steps to bring back a semblance of normalcy in people’s lives.

“Life isn’t just about whether there’s COVID or not,” Ooi says. “There’s a lot more to what makes our life enriched… so we need to begin to move towards that direction. There is no perfect time. It’s just that there will always be [a] trade-off.”

Police officers (L and 2nd R) wearing protective gear explain pandemic prevention information to fight against the spread of Covid-19 coronavirus to workers at Nanjing port in China’s eastern Jiangsu province on August 4, 2021.
AFP via Getty Images

There is also a growing chorus of impatience at the ongoing impact of China’s strategy on global supply chains, with predictions of significant economic consequences. Katrina Ell, senior economist at Moody’s Analytics, told CNBC that “given China’s zero-COVID policy and how they tend to shut down important ports and factories–that really increases disruption.” She added that the strategy “will have important ramifications for inflation and also central bank policy-making in the next couple of months.”

At the same time, it is hard to argue with the logic of Chen Long, the founder of Chinese research firm Plenum, who told Fortune: “If they didn’t do preliminary lockdowns, then you’d have millions of cases in China, and then you’d have a worse supply-chain crisis.”

In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has become a tug-of-war between saving lives and saving profits, says Radhika Desai of Canada-based think tank Geopolitical Economy Research Group. “If you look underneath the surface rhetoric and the gestures of our governments,” she says, “the most important priority for them has been to save capital assets.”

Desai warns against an over-reliance on vaccines as a way out the pandemic, given the inevitability of mutating variants and enormous vaccine inequity between rich and poor countries. In this light, she says, it is not for the world to ask when China will stop its zero-COVID policy. Instead: “I think we should ask when will we learn from China.”

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Inside Finland’s Plan to End All Waste by 2050

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On a drizzly December morning that turned Helsinki’s ice-slicked streets even more treacherous, 11-year-old Minh Anh Ho sat safely indoors, hunched over a microscope. The rest of her classmates were occupied with different tasks: interviewing the mayor for the local news station, overseeing the electric company, stocking the shelves of the local grocery store. But as a researcher for a company called Borealis that repurposes plastic, she was busy analyzing the sheet of cling film that lay beneath her lens. “I think it’s a really important job,” she said. “Plastic takes a really long time to disappear, so it would be good to come up with something else to do with it and not just throw it away.”

Yrityskyla, the learning center where Ho and her class were spending the day, is designed to introduce Finnish schoolchildren to working life. In one of 13 centers spread throughout the country and sponsored by a consortium that includes the Confederation of Finnish Industries and the Finnish government, they run a simulacrum of a town, with each student performing a job in a different business (all of them based on real-life companies), from banking to health care to fashion design. The program was launched in 2010, and today roughly 83% of all sixth-graders go through it each year. And since 2017, their day at Yrityskyla has included not just experiential lessons on entrepreneurship and progressive taxation but also, as Ho’s “job” makes clear, the circular economy.

The control room inside Fortum Waste Solutions Oy’s circular economy facility
Ingmar Bj?rn Nolting for TIME

As natural resources diminish and the climate crisis grows more acute, the notion of a circular economy has been gaining traction around the globe. Most modern economies are linear–they rest on a “take, make, waste” model in which natural resources are extracted, their valuable elements are transformed into products, and anything left over (along with the products themselves when they are no longer useful) is discarded as waste. In contrast, a circular economy replaces the extraction of resources with the transformation of existing products and essentially does away with the notion of waste altogether.

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A growing number of governments, from the municipal to the international, have thrown their weight behind the idea. The E.U. launched its action plan for the transition to a circular economy in 2015, then updated it in 2020 as part of the Green Deal to include initiatives that encourage companies to design products–from laptops to jeans–so that they last longer and can be more easily repaired. In February, the European Parliament passed a resolution demanding additional measures that would allow it to adopt a fully circular carbon-neutral economy by 2050. Some member states, including the Netherlands, have also drafted similar plans at the national level.

Among them, Finland stands out for the comprehensiveness of its approach. Back in 2016, it became the first to adopt a national “road map” to a circular economy–a commitment it reaffirmed last year by setting targeted caps on natural-resource extraction. Like other nations, Finland supports entrepreneurship in creative reuse, or upcycling (especially in its important forestry industry), urges public procurements that rely on recycled and repurposed materials, and seeks to curb dramatically the amount of waste going to landfill.

Marja Oesch practices regeneration on her Finnish farm, with the help of cattle. She hopes to put back as much into the land as she takes out
Ingmar Bj?rn Nolting for TIME

But from the beginning, the country of 5.5 million has also focused closely on education, training its younger generations to think of the economy differently than their parents and grandparents do. “People think it’s just about recycling,” says Nani Pajunen, a sustainability expert at Sitra, the public innovation fund that has spearheaded Finland’s circular conversion. “But really, it’s about rethinking everything–products, material development, how we consume.” To make changes at every level of society, Pajunen argues, education is key–getting every Finn to understand the need for a circular economy, and how they can be part of it.

A pilot program to help teachers incorporate the notion into curriculums in 2017 “just snowballed,” says Pajunen. “By the end of the two years, 2,500 teachers around the country had joined the network–far more than we had directly funded.”

Since then, studying the circular economy has taken on a life of its own, starting with the youngest. In December, Neulanen kindergarten director Liisa Woitsch sat on the floor with some of her young charges, a broken wooden chair and a large cartoon cutout of a fox. Unscrewing a dangling leg from the chair, Woitsch asked the children, “Do we just throw it away now, or can you think of anything else that can be done with it?” One boy clamored to the seat and, pounding rhythmically, declared it a drum. Another brought the detached leg to his lips. “It can be a trumpet!”

A young student plays with a fox at the Neulanen kindergarten in Helsinki on Dec. 13
Ingmar Bj?rn Nolting for TIME
At the Neulanen kindergarten, Liisa Woitsch teaches children about sustainability using a fox model
Ingmar Bj?rn Nolting for TIME

It’s an uplifting change from the catastrophe and dystopia that often characterizes education about sustainable development, says Anssi Almgren, who helped design the curriculum for the city of Helsinki. “Children have so many great ideas, and we wanted to enable them to think about solutions.”

In a nation whose education system, considered by many to be the best in the world, rests heavily on experiential learning (and not at all on homework, which is practically nonexistent), the solutions-based approach of studying circular economy adapts to all levels of formal education. In one online course developed for high school, for example, students engage in an advanced version of Woitsch’s kindergarten class, taking apart broken items like ballpoint pens or electronics and mulling over new purposes for their materials.

By the time kids reach university, their grounding in circularity is strong enough that they can apply the principle to advanced research. At Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, students collaborate on projects designed to solve real-world problems. One group on an engineering course spent the fall investigating how Helsinki could foster neighborhoods where individual blocks could–by establishing repair workshops, gardens and composting sites–build their own mini circular economies.

University students in Helsinki present research on new business models for energy company St1, during a Dec. 14 class
Ingmar Bj?rn Nolting for TIME

The concept is also making its way into adult education. In 2018 Marja Oesch was trying to figure out what to do with her life. She had grown up on a farm 88 km north of Helsinki, and wasn’t convinced that farming held much opportunity, either for herself or for the environment. “It was basically a monoculture,” the 26-year-old says of her family’s 100-hectare farm, where they primarily grew grain, having previously raised cattle. “The soil had become more compacted, and we were using more and more fertilizers. I could see the problem, but I didn’t know how to solve it.”

When she learned of a course in regenerative agriculture organized by an environmental NGO called the Baltic Sea Action Group, she enrolled. She soon realized she could help tackle the climate crisis and biodiversity loss on the farm itself.

Marja Oesch on one of her fields in H?me. Under the snow are cover crops, which help rebuild depleted soil and support biodiversity
Ingmar Bj?rn Nolting for TIME
A painting inside Marja Oesch’s house. She has been taking a free, online course in regenerative agriculture
Ingmar Bj?rn Nolting for TIME

A year ago, she bought out her parents and began changing the farm’s model. She still grows wheat and barley, but when she plants those grains in the spring, she seeds them with 15 varieties of cover crops to help rebuild the depleted soil and support biodiversity on the farm. She’s also introducing new crops into rotation, and recently added six cows whose only job at present is to eat: by grazing and fertilizing the soil with their manure, they too contribute to the health of the land. “Before, I was only thinking about yield–how much can I harvest in this one field,” she says. But now her perspective has broadened to include putting back as much as taking out. “Every time I have to make a decision now,” Oesch says, “I think about how it affects the soil and the organisms in it, and down the line that will bring other changes that I think will make the farm healthier. But the most important change is your mindset.”

Is Finland as a whole achieving that particular transformation? By some measures, yes: a recent poll showed that 82% of Finns believe the circular economy creates new jobs, and several Finnish cities have developed road maps of their own. Its forestry industry has taken steps to reinvent itself, a key move as a full 28% of domestic energy consumption now comes from wood-based fuels. Renewables–including wood, though burning it does release carbon–surpassed fossil fuels for the first time in 2020.

Students at Yrityskyl? Learning Environment in Helsinki on Dec. 13. Through the tablets, students are able to access their schedules and job tasks
Ingmar Bj?rn Nolting for TIME

Meanwhile, the number of successful young companies employing circular measures seems to expand every month. Many are working to convert sidestreams from the forestry industry into new materials like bioplastics, paperboard and textiles. But in the birthplace of Nokia, just as many seem to be aimed at tech. Swappie, a company that refurbishes iPhones, for example, is one of Finland’s most successful recent startups. In 2016, its founders, then all in their 20s, embarked on a mission to make used phones–which then made up only 5% of the global market–as common as used cars (which make up 50% of all cars sold). “After researching the market, we realized that the main obstacle was quality,” CEO Sami Marttinen explains. “People didn’t trust the quality of refurbishers. So that’s what we built the company on.”

Swappie handles every step in-house at its Helsinki facility, from receiving the used phones to diagnosing and repairing them to sending out the perfectly functioning refurbished ones and marketing them through traditional advertising and a well-targeted influencer campaign. The company’s holistic approach is working: it has increased its revenue from half a million euros in its first year to 98 million in 2020, and augmented its capacity with a second factory in Estonia. Many of its 1,100 employees come from around the world, drawn, Marttinen says, “by the sense of purpose.” And although the company’s research suggests that many of its customers buy Swappies simply because they get guaranteed quality for a lower price, for some of its clientele that same sense of purpose has made owning a Swappie cooler than getting a new phone.

A staff meeting at Swappie on Dec. 14. Swappie’s employees refurbish and sell used smartphones
Ingmar Bj?rn Nolting for TIME
Old iPhone motherboards at Swappie. The refurbished phones cost less and come with a guarantee
Ingmar Bj?rn Nolting for TIME

It’s not all small startups either. The state-owned Fortum–the country’s leading energy producer and, by revenue, Finland’s largest company–is already working within a circular model. It transforms waste into energy through incineration, as well as into new materials: discarded household plastic, for example, is processed at its plant in Riihimaki into clean pellets that can be remade into any kind of plastic.

The company currently is a major greenhouse-gas emitter, largely due to its fossil-fuel-energy subsidiary, Uniper, but is looking ahead to the endgame of the transition to a carbon-neutral economy. Once fossil fuels are phased out and replaced with renewables, Kalle Saarimaa, vice president of Fortum Recycling and Waste, explains, the raw materials for energy will no longer be scarce; sun and wind, unlike coal and oil, are free. But something that is abundant today–cheap plastic and other hydrocarbons made from petroleum–will then become scarce. “Where are those hydrocarbons going to come from when fossil fuels are phased out?” he asks. “A lot of people right now are working to replace them with bioplastics. But what happens to bio if you do that? There won’t be any trees left on the planet.” (Wood is a leading source of bioplastic.) Instead, the company is developing innovative technology to generate those hydrocarbons from the carbon dioxide emitted in the energy-production process. “We see it as the future of recycling,” Saarimaa says–“the way to get carbon circular.”

Finland still has a long way to go. Although the amount of waste going to landfill has decreased so dramatically in the past two decades as to be almost negligible, Finns are actually producing more waste per capita than they were a few years ago–they’re just turning it into something else. “In that sense, we are still living in the linear model,” says Sitra’s project director for circular economy, Kari Herlevi. “We’re better at recycling, but we have not been able to turn the tide fully.”

The Yrityskyl? learning program was launched in 2010, and today roughly 83% of all sixth-graders go through it each year for experiential lessons on the circular economy. Pictured in blue is the town hall, next to “Think Corner”
Ingmar Bj?rn Nolting for TIME

In downtown Helsinki, the three chef-owners of Nolla have discovered much the same. When they first opened the restaurant in 2018, they trumpeted its zero-waste philosophy, with drinking glasses made from elegantly repurposed juice bottles and a popular dip flavored with a syrup made from the kitchen’s vegetable trim. Cooks had to track any discard that couldn’t be repurposed–including food that came back from the dining room uneaten on each plate–before emptying it into the composter. But they discovered that the public wasn’t necessarily with them. “They would think that we were cooking with waste, or that we were going to feed them food that had gone bad,” co-owner Luka Balac says. “So now we’re just a restaurant. We are still doing all the same things, but if you don’t know about it”–gesturing around the packed dining room, Balac estimates that only about 60% of their guests do–“you’re just going to think you had a nice meal.”

Entrepreneur Amanda Rejstrom has seen a major recent shift toward the idea of a circular economy, but notes that older Finns can be more skeptical. “Finland was very poor well into the 1950s, but it developed very quickly after that,” she says, with generations of Finns focused on expanding industry. “It’s very hard for people to understand that their lives’ work, or the life’s work of their parents, could in any way be a bad thing.”

Rejstrom inhabits the dilemma: she sits on the board of her family’s company, which produces injection molding. But she is also the founder and CEO of Spark Sustainability, which a few months ago launched an app called Carbon Donut. It allows users to track their carbon footprint, tailors suggestions to them for how to curb it, and links them to circular businesses that can help. The app so far has 15,000 users, most of whom, she says, are urban, highly educated and in their 20s. “They are the generation that learned about circular economy and climate change and all the other environmental problems in school, and have a different approach to nature than older generations who saw it more in terms of its monetary potential.”

Plants inside the Urban Farm Lab, Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, on Dec. 14
Ingmar Bj?rn Nolting for TIME
Students at Yrityskyl? work for Dr. Oetker, a food manufacturing company
Ingmar Bj?rn Nolting for TIME

Finland is seeking to position itself as a model for other countries; to that end, Sitra has published guidelines to help other nations develop their own circular-economy road maps, and has begun collaborating with the African Development Bank to further steps toward circularity across that continent. But its unique combination of small population, political will, a muscular entrepreneurial culture and that strong education system suggests that any country seeking to follow in its footsteps is going to need to look beyond merely phasing out landfills and funding cool startups to a bigger, more holistic picture. “From the feedback we’ve received, it’s clear that the education part resonates internationally,” says Sitra’s Herlevi. “And from the beginning we have thought of it as the backbone of our strategy. But [education] is part of the overall Finnish way of operating, and it’s not like you can just take it and implement it as a separate thing.”

Nor is it a strategy that works overnight. Even in Finland, the focus on changing a society by educating its young takes time. It worked that way for Tina and Karin Harms. A lawyer who identifies herself as “very aware of sustainability issues,” Tina, 47, was unfamiliar with the term circular economy, even though, as someone who restores furniture as a hobby and has long tried to reduce her family’s consumption, she was already practicing it in some ways.

Her middle child Karin, age 19, on the other hand, says she has been familiar with the circular “practically all my life.” She first learned of it in primary school and had the message reinforced in middle school–her class went to Yrityskyla, for one–and it forms part of the curriculum at her current high school. Like most of her friends, she has a refurbished phone and buys most of her clothes at secondhand shops. She’s also vegan, and has persuaded the rest of the family to recycle. “We started five years ago, and before that we weren’t doing it,” Karin says. “But then I said we really need to, we all need to contribute to fighting climate change.”

Tina recalls balking at first. Although the family did recycle its newspaper and bottles, separating plastics required an extra effort that she found inconvenient. But today, they have what she laughingly describes as “virtually a plastic recycling center” in their basement. “I think that if you have a teenager with very strong feelings about something,” she reflects, “it’s very demotivating if we older ones don’t show that we’re ready to make the extra effort to change.”

–With reporting by Eloise Barry/London

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