Sweden importing waste for energy, as it runs out of garbage
Sweden, the world’s preferred solar-powered purveyor of flat-pack home furnishings, has run out of garbage. As a result, to keep its state-of-the art recycling plants functioning, the Scandinavian country has been forced to import waste from other countries.
Sweden, which sources almost half its electricity from renewables, was one of the first countries to implement a heavy tax on fossil fuels in 1991. According to statistics, a margin less than one percent of waste from Swedish citizens had been sent to landfill in 2016, along with every year that has passed since 2011.
“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,” said Anna-Carin Gripwall, director of communications for Avfall Sverige, the Swedish Waste Management’s recycling association.
Over time, Sweden has applied an organised national recycling policy so that even though private companies undertake most of the business of importing and burning waste, it enables a national heating network to equally offer a heating system for each home during the freezing Swedish winter.
“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,” Gripwall said.
However, there is a critique for Sweden’s recycling procedure in regards to heating homes, which is that they apparently transport waste to be burnt, rather than always recycling something to its utmost potential.
According to plant managers for paper, they say that wood fibre can be used up to six times before it becomes dust. However, if Sweden burns paper before that point, it is ultimately ceasing the potential for true recycling and replacing used paper with fresh raw material.
Gripwall describes Sweden’s policy of importing waste to recycle from other countries like the UK as a temporary situation.
“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.
Swedish municipalities are investing in futuristic waste collection methods, like automated vacuum systems in residential blocks, underground container systems that make space for road and get rid of any smells, and removing the need for collection transport, the report said.