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Nuclear waste will remain a deadly threat for hundreds of thousands of years. Despite having decades of hazardous waste in temporary storage, the world is only now finalising plans for long-term containment

Onkalo aims to solve the 100,000-year problem of nuclear waste storage

Nuclear waste will remain a deadly threat for hundreds of thousands of years. Despite having decades of hazardous waste in temporary storage, the world is only now finalising plans for long-term containment

Burying bins: How Molok’s vertical waste management swept the globe

Molok founder Veikko Salli and CEO Marja Hillis tell their story – from a litter-strewn hotel in Finland to a multinational business

Some 30 years ago, the sight of local businesses’ untidy garbage bins inspired Veikko Salli to create a new, environmentally-friendly system for waste and recycling. That system is Molok: a vertical waste management solution that hides refuse and recycling underground; increasing capacity and reducing unpleasant smells and overflows. He discusses the moment of inspiration, and what other innovations we can expect to see in the waste management industry. His daughter and CEO of Molok North America, Marja Hillis, explains how the company has evolved and internationalised since its beginnings in Finland, and how better global cooperation around climate change will drive the sector to greater heights.

The New Economy: Some 30 years ago, the sight of local businesses’ untidy garbage bins inspired Veikko Salli to create a new, environmentally friendly system for waste and recycling. He founded Molok; he joins me now along with his daughter and CEO of Molok North America, Marja Hillis.

Veikko, talk to me about that moment of inspiration, when you realised you needed to do something.

Veikko Salli: That moment was a big moment. It was the moment when we saw that, as a hotel owner and restaurant owner, problems with that waste spreading around, smelling, rats coming and so on.

So, we got the basic idea that we can put it partly underground. That way perhaps it would stop smelling, and it’s possible to get more waste into a smaller area. So that was the moment where Molok really was born.

Marja Hillis: So the basic idea is that two thirds of the Molok container is underground, and one third is above ground. So you have large capacity in a small space, and because the container is vertical, the new waste covers the old waste, and pushes the old waste down.

The other thing is that underground temperature keeps the waste cool, so it’s not going to smell the way it does if it’s all above ground.

Veikko Salli: So after some years thinking ‘there must be something like this in the world’ – but there was nothing like that – in 1991 we decided to create the company. And the first workers of that company are sitting now here.

The New Economy: So Marja, in the 25 years since you were first enlisted into this company, how have you seen it, and how have you driven it to change and evolve?

Marja Hillis: Oh my goodness. When we first started of course, everything was in Finland. We always call it our laboratory for the market.

Our basic model is that there are distributors that are independent companies in different countries, but once the volume grows then we have to look at different types of options. One way would be having a terminal in a country where we would ship parts and then they would be assembled there.

Or for example, Molok North America, in Canada: we started being importers, then became assemblers, and then licensed manufacturers.

We don’t think that Molok needs to have all the business to itself. We want to look at different countries and how Molok fits their culture and their economy. So maybe we can set up something with the local government, local businesses, so that they can set not just the business, but the whole system, everything, within that country.

The New Economy: Which makes sense from a business sustainability point of view, as well as an environmental sustainability point of view; how important is that aspect of your work to Molok? How important is it to be increasing the rate of recycling, for example?

Veikko Salli: Recycling is a very interesting word. The first reason that we need recycling is that our packing industry has grown to make huge packaging. A hundred years ago, there was almost no packaging, and that means no waste. We are so crazy that we buy our waste from the shops!

The environment, tidiness, and clean healthiness, are the most important thing.

Marja Hillis: Then what we do in our manufacturing; the Molok product is made out of plastics, polyethylene that can be 100 percent recycled. Parts of the plastic we actually recycle ourselves, and put back into the product.

We use aluminium, stainless steel: things that can all be 100 percent recycled. And they do not rot or rust, so the containers themselves actually last a very, very long time. Recycled products don’t necessarily have the very long lifecycle, whereas our product? Some of the very original containers that were installed 25 years ago are still in use.

The New Economy: Can we expect to see any more great innovations from this industry? And from Molok?

Veikko Salli: So, new innovations, of course there are. Form, size, how to use it. How to cooperate with people in different countries. That puts our brains working hard.

Marja Hillis: Looking into the future about how the industry is going to develop. When people become more educated about the environment, when governments are focusing on greenhouse gases, global warming, it becomes easier to communicate with all these different stakeholders. And the cooperation between businesses and people and governments – it becomes closer.

So that then, whatever is being developed is being developed with the whole world in mind, and everybody’s needs. Instead of just the business profits.

The New Economy: Veikko, Marja, thank you both so much.

Veiko Salli, Marja Hillis: Thank you.