Sweden Is Burning H&M Clothing Instead Of Coal

Written by Lloyd Alter

They love waste-to-energy plants in Scandinavia. Bjarke Ingells designed a fabulous one in Copenhagen that is now a tourist attraction. In Sweden, 50 percent of waste is sent to incinerators sorry, waste-to-energy plants. Evidently, that waste also includes clothing from H&M. According to Bloomberg, the Vasteras plant just north of Stockholm operated by Malarenergi, has a deal to burn trash from H&M, which includes 15 tons of clothing.

“H&M does not burn any clothes that are safe to use,” Johanna Dahl, head of communications for H&M in Sweden, said by email. “However it is our legal obligation to make sure that clothes that contain mold or do not comply with our strict restriction on chemicals are destroyed.”

Most readers disagree with me when I complain about waste-to-energy, but I have been in the Copenhagen plants and seen the amount of plastic they are burning. Plastic is essentially a solid fossil fuel and is about 20 percent of what is burned by volume. The rest is garbage, and the CO2 is regarded as “natural”. I quoted the EPA in an earlier post:

The EPA reports that incinerating garbage releases 2,988 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour of electricity produced. That compares unfavorably with coal (2,249 pounds/megawatt hour) and natural gas (1,135 pounds/megawatt hour). But most of the stuff burned in WTE processes—such as paper, food, wood, and other stuff created of biomass—would have released the CO2 embedded in it over time, as “part of the Earth’s natural carbon cycle.”

But that’s not really true; food could have been composted, wood and paper could have been shredded and turned into insulation. Instead, they have become addicted to garbage, even to the point where they are importing it from other countries. As Tom Szaky notes,

Waste-to-energy also acts as a disincentive to develop more sustainable waste reduction strategies. It may work better in the short term with strict pollution standards and as a last-resort for waste disposal, but it does not offer us a sustainable long-term solution. Preserving material (through recycling and reuse) already in circulation is a key component of sustainable development. Burning finite resources may not be the best approach down the line.

And now we find they are burning clothing.

Whenever I complain about waste-to-energy, I get attacked as being a tool of the fossil fuel industry, about wanting to maintain the status quo. Not at all; I believe we should eliminate waste, not bury or recycle or burn it. Jesper Starn of Bloomberg tells us that “Sweden prides itself on an almost entirely emission free-power system” and “by converting old plants to burn biofuels and garbage, the biggest Nordic economy is hoping to edge out the last of its fossil fuel units by the end of this decade. ”

But biofuels and garbage are not emission free; the old plant in Copenhagen had to be replaced because it exceeded European standards for dioxin and other pollutants; that is why Bjarke got to build his new marvel. This plant in Sweden is 54 years old, how clean is it? The Danes and Swedes love their waste-to-energy plants, but we shouldn’t be burning garbage or clothing, it is too easy. We should not be making garbage in the first place.

This post originally appeared on TreeHugger

Photo Credit: Mike Mozart/Flickr


Marie W
Marie W1 months ago

Thanks for sharing

Roberto MARINI
Roberto MARINI6 months ago

thansk for sharing

Just Human
Just Human6 months ago

Reduce, recycle, and reuse.

Mike R
Mike R6 months ago


Cathy B
Cathy B7 months ago

Garbage put to good use!Thank you.

Lesa D
Lesa D7 months ago

i have never heard of importing garbage...

Graham P
Graham P7 months ago

Very interesting thanks.

Clare O'Beara
Clare O7 months ago

H&M it seems invite customers to bring back worn out clothing to the stores. For decades Iceland has been importing containers of secondhand jeans because their teenagers could not afford new ones. When charity shops get clothes that can't be re-sold, re-made etc they sell them for industrial rags. These are used in factories, garages etc. Or some rag can be re-made into paper. But it's clear that some clothes will not be safely re-used - as they say, with mould or stains. Or made of plastics. Suppose the carbon cost of moving it to where it can be made into paper, and the process, is far more than the cost of shipping it to a waste burning district heating plant? This plant will be circulating hot water through pipes under the whole town, heating premises. That is what they do in Scandinavia.

Clare O'Beara
Clare O7 months ago

Hard to know, as they will be burning nappies, wet wipes and such that don't have any recycling and you don't want getting in the ocean. K-cups - coffee pods - that can't be recycled. This would all go to landfill.

Rosslyn O
Rosslyn O7 months ago

Obviously recycling is off the table there? Sad that they are not doing their homework on this lot... people are suffering and so too is the environment.... Head in the sand approach yet again!