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Sweden is So Green It Has to Import Garbage

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

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202 comments

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12:04AM PDT on May 21, 2014

noted

2:56AM PST on Dec 31, 2013

You have to waste less time to search your obligatory matter on web, because these days the searching ways of search engines are nice. That's why I found this article at this point.

Eyal colberg

7:05AM PST on Jan 5, 2013

Thanks for an interesting article. I wish other countries were as forward thinking

6:53PM PDT on Oct 29, 2012

Burning dangerous Complex Synthetic Chemicals such as plastics etc not only liberates very dangerous chemicals into the air, water, soil & biosphere channels for greater human contact. Burning at high temperatures creates much more dangerous chemicals such as dioxins & furans with dangers at parts per billion (pp/billion is one drop in an olympic size swimming pool) & pp/trillion. As Jim T & other commenters report, this level of fume particulate is not filterable with existing technologies. Industries have been burning complex synthetic chemical waste composites now for many decades trying to figure out water-washing & a host of supposed filters without success. https://sites.google.com/site/indigenecommunity/structure/6-holistic-science

6:38PM PDT on Oct 29, 2012

I find it astounding that Care2's Health Policy writer Kristina Chew has chosen this, of all stories, to share with our audience and feel that in her doing so, she's helping a polluting industry that's been proven to harm our health and environment.

Tens of Thousands of tons of toxic emissions are created when waste is incinerated.

There is no technology capable of filtering Ultra-Fine particulate matter from any industry's emissions. These are only a few Millionths of a Meter in size and penetrate deep into our lung tissue.

Waste incinerators create dioxins when garbage is burned that did not exist before being burned.

Every baby born today has their body burdened with more than 200 man-made chemicals that didn't exist 200 years ago.

Every woman of child-bearing age has enough mercury in her body to cause fetal damage.

Care2 should be ashamed to promote an article praising such a costly, wasteful and polluting industry. I am rethinking my Care2 membership because of this article and that it was brought to us by your health writer.

7:18AM PDT on Oct 25, 2012

Burning garbage is a really, really, bad idea. It's a big source of health-damaging air pollutants. Not "green" at all. See http://no-burn.org

7:18AM PDT on Oct 25, 2012

Burning garbage is a really, really, bad idea. It's a big source of health-damaging air pollutants. Not "green" at all. See http://no-burn.org

2:15PM PDT on Oct 20, 2012

that is so awesome! why don't we ALL do that?

8:07AM PDT on Oct 14, 2012

that is awesome! I wish I lived there

6:27AM PDT on Oct 10, 2012

hopes it happens in more places

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