Dump Your Garbage in Sweden, Get Paid!

How the Nation’s Pioneering Waste Disposal System Has Run Out of Waste

In the new world, the recycling factor may be changing our values. All sane people recognize the value of the recycling industry, so garbage must be worth something if recycling it correctly is worth something to all of us. As if to illustrate this point, Sweden is today importing garbage from other nations because it is running out of its own. Now, if you are wondering why a nation might ever need to import garbage, consider that Sweden is a special case: it requires the trash to keep its state-of-the-art recycling plants going.

Sweden is one of the very few countries in this world that draws almost half of its electricity from renewable sources.In 1991, it became the first country ever to implement a heavy tax on fossil fuels.

Dump Your Garbage in Sweden, Get Paid!

In 2015, only 1% of household waste was sent to landfill. You can imagine how sophisticated Sweden’s waste disposal industry is.  Today, the Scandinavian country has run out of rubbish and is forced to import it from other countries, so that its state-of-the-art waste elimination facilities may remain up and running.

Director of Communications for Avfall Sverige, Anna-Carin Gripwall, commented that Swedes are aware of their responisbilities towards nature.

"Swedish people are quite keen on being out in nature and they are aware of what we need do on nature and environmental issues. We worked on communications for a long time to make people aware not to throw things outdoors so that we can recycle and reuse [them]," she said.

The country took steps to implement a cohesive national recycling policy. While private companies have started to import and burn waste, the energy keeps the people’s homes warm in Sweden’s extremely cold winters, being delivered via the national heating network.

"That’s a key reason that we have this district network, so we can make use of the heating from the waste plants. In the southern part of Europe they don’t make use of the heating from the waste, it just goes out the chimney. Here we use it as a substitute for fossil fuel," Gripwell indicated.

She also pointed out that Sweden’s policy of vigorously importing waste from other countries such as the UK as a temporary solution to the domestic shortage of materials to recycle.

"There’s a ban on landfill in European Union countries, so instead of paying the fine they send it to us as a service. They should and will build their own plants, to reduce their own waste, as we are working hard to do in Sweden," Gripwall said.

"Hopefully there will be less waste and the waste that has to go to incineration should be incinerated in each country. But to use recycling for heating you have to have district heating or cooling systems, so you have to build the infrastructure for that, and that takes time," she added.

It seems that Sweden, having become acutely aware of the garbage shortage, is finding measures to cope up with the situation. Swedish municipalities have been investing in futuristic waste collection methods, e.g. automated vacuum systems in residential buildings, and underground container systems, which remove the need for collection transportand keep the cities free of foul odors.

Debate over Zero Waste vs. Incineration

For fairness’ sake, it must be observed that the much-praised Swedish recycling scheme is not without its critics, especially among the Zero Waste movement. Although everyone recognizes Sweden’s environmental advances, it is pointed out that other EU countries also pursue rigorous recycling policies. What is true is that Sweden is just one example of a powerful trend in Europe to put dealing with waste and garbage on a modern footing that answers present-day environmental standards. Much of the debate has to do that with the fact that circa 2010 a EU restriction on the export of “residual” (non-recyclable) waste was partly abolished, permitting counties – notably Denmark, Germany, Holland, and Sweden – to purchase waste abroad to feed their newly built, hyper powerful incineration facilities.

There remain some profound differences of opinion among the concerned public as to the best ways disposing of solid trash – and as regards what counts as recycling. Britain’s Dominic Hogg, in a well-informed opinion piece on The Independent’s website, criticizes Sweden for overreliance on incineration, offering statistics based on a different understanding of what constitutes recycling. He states that Sweden’s actual average recycling rate is high at 50%, but has plateaued since 2006. The UK’s overall recycling rate of 45% is behind Sweden’s, but Wales was well ahead at 60% in 2015.

Writes Hogg: “Reports praising the country include incineration as a form of recycling, but it isn’t. Indeed, too much incineration capacity can hinder recycling. Yes, Sweden landfills a much lower proportion of waste than the UK – but that’s mainly because it incinerates a much greater proportion. Sweden’s incinerators were built partly in response to bans on landfilling that were introduced in the 2000s. At that time, many in Sweden worried that building too much incineration could suppress recycling. Given that EU policies are now targeting 65 per cent recycling by 2030 – well above existing performance of most countries (including the UK and Sweden) – it seems unlikely that there will be residual waste available from overseas to feed the incinerators we build. Remember, incineration is not recycling.”

It is important that Ecorama’s readers understand exactly what is at stake in the issue of recycling vs. incineration. Nate Seltenrich, a US-based independent journalist writing in Environment 360, published by the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, argued in regards to “waste-to-energy” schemes that “large-scale incinerators tend to discourage recycling and lead to greater waste.” Many in Europe regard incineration as the silver-bullet solution to humanity’s waste production. The formula “recycle what you can, burn the rest into energy” is superficially persuasive. In Europe, where 25% or more of all “municipal solid waste” is incinerated, product reuse advocacy groups such as Zero Waste Europe and GAIA (Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives) challenge the view that incineration is sustainable, pointing out that incinerator capacity keeps escalating although it already outstrips the ongoing waste supply in some countries and is likely soon to do so in more. Incineration permanently destroys trash and is therefore wasteful, they argue, while creating new goods out of limited, dwindling resources in turn requires energy inputs.

Encouraged by government support and subsidies, European waste-to-energy activists claim that opposing recycling and incineration only poses a false dilemma since the two approaches are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, countries with the highest municipal waste incineration rates – particularly Denmark, Norway, and, again, Sweden, which incinerate at least half of their solid trash — also boast high recycling rates. Nevertheless, their “zero-waster” opponents point out that other countries less reliant on burning garbage exhibit even higher recycling rates (e.g. Germany).

That said, everyone seems to agree that even the efficient burning of solid trash is a step up from depositing it into landfills, a practice still widely accepted in eastern and southern Europe that causes major environmental damage, toxic leaching into water sources, release of greenhouse methane into the atmosphere, and a growing paucity of free space. For a comparison, in the United States, over 50% of waste is shipped to landfills, and only about 12% is burned (chiefly not to generate energy but simply in order to get rid of the trash). According to the data of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, landfills rank just below industry and agriculture as the country’s third-largest producer methane gas. These are precisely the reasons that much of Western Europe has legislated bans on landfills. On the other hand, burning waste such as plastics can lead to environmental pollution of its own.


Published On: Feb 16,2015 20:20

Rooturaj

Author

Rooturaj

Rooturaj Pattanaik is a nature lover, business and technology consultant based in New Delhi India. He loves to travel and photograph. Rooturaj takes a particular interest in promotion of renewable resources and afforestation initiatives. He has been a Green Peace supporter in the past and protested against genetically modified crops in India.

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Dump Your Garbage in Sweden, Get Paid!

Dump Your Garbage in Sweden, Get Paid!

How the Nation’s Pioneering Waste Disposal System Has Run Out of Waste In the new..

Read
Toward a Gandhian Philosophy of Sustainable Development and Environmental Conservation

Toward a Gandhian Philosophy of Sustainable Development and Environmental Conservation

Mahatma Gandhi as Environmentalist and Sustainability..

Read
This Indian Reforestation Hero Planted a Jungle, Alone

This Indian Reforestation Hero Planted a Jungle, Alone

Meet Jadav Molai Payeng of Assam’s Molai Forest In a world where trees were being..

Read