Sweden is So Green It Has to Import Garbage
Recycling in Sweden has been so successful that the Scandinavian country has to import garbage from its European neighbors.
Yes, we should all be in such a predicament!
As Public Radio International reports, only four percent of household waste in Sweden ends up in municipal landfills; the rest is recycled or is sent to waste-to-energy power plants, where it is burned as fuel. A report from Swedish Waste Management touts Sweden as offering the “best example” for a “greener future,” noting that the country is able to recover the most energy from each ton of waste via its waste-to-energy plants.
Indeed, the waste-to-energy plants do just what their name says. The “waste-powered” plants provide 20 percent of Sweden’s district heating, in which heated water is pumped through pipes to residential and commercial buildings, as well as electricity for a quarter of a million homes and over 4.6 million households.
Other statistics confirm just how green Sweden is. According to the most recent figures from Eurostat, only 1 percent of waste from Swedish households ends up in landfill, in contrast to 38 percent for European countries on average. As the French newspaper Le Monde details, 36 percent of waste in Sweden is recycled, 14 percent composted and more than 49 percent incinerated, the highest rate in the EU after Denmark (54 percent) and well above the European average (22 percent).
Sweden Has to Import Garbage
Since Sweden does not produce enough burnable waste for its energy needs, it has been importing 800,000 tons of trash a year from other European countries including neighboring Norway. It’s cheaper for Norway to export its trash rather than to burn it itself.
Emissions from the burning waste are a concern, as well as dioxin and heavy metals in the ashes. Sweden’s regulations about limiting these are strict and with good result as, since the 1980s, they have led to a 90 percent reduction in the release of hydrogen chloride and sulfur oxides (responsible for acid rain).
Catarina Ostlund, Senior Advisor for the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, says that heavy metal emissions are landfilled and then the ashes are re-exported back to Norway. She hopes that countries including Italy, Bulgaria, Romania and the Baltic countries might follow Sweden and build their own incineration or recycling plants, as they currently diposed of their waste in landfills. Italy, Romania, Bulgaria and Lithuania do have new waste-to-energy initiatives that could lead to more sustainable management of waste and energy resources. Since some of these countries are currently mired in financial difficulties including massive debt, it’s to be hoped that environmentally-friendly policies do not get pushed aside.
As Ostlund notes, it could be possible that in the future, “waste will be valued even more so maybe you could sell your waste because there will be a shortage of resources within the world.” Now that — being able to re-use our waste to supply our needs for fuel — would be turning trash “into gold.”
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Photo by Sebastian Bergmann