The Scandinavian nation of Sweden has set a new precedent in the world of recycling its trash, with a near zero waste amount of 99 percent. Sweden was already ahead of the game back in 2012, when they were recycling 96 percent of their trash, but the three percent jump in just two years is quite impressive.
How does Sweden do it? They have an aggressive recycling policy, which goes in an order of importance: prevention, reuse, recycling, recycling alternatives, and as a last resort, disposal in landfill. As of 2014, only 1 percent of their waste ends up in a landfill.
Swedes understand that producing less waste to begin with is key to reducing the amount of trash that ends up being thrown away. Something as simple as using reusable containers for water and drinks can greatly reduce the amount of trash each person produces per year.
They have a very advanced system of trash separation which makes it easy to recycle nearly everything that’s thrown away.
Much of the left over waste is taken care of by using “recycling alternatives”, such as the Waste-to-Energy program.
While the “recycling alternative” remains controversial, it’s cleaner than drilling for oil or natural gas to burn in traditional power plants.
Sweden is so good at recycling its trash in fact, that it now has plans to import 800,000 tons of garbage from other countries in Europe in order to create heat for its citizens through its Waste-to-Energy program.
America should take note of this process considering we only recycle approximately 34 percent of the garbage we throw away.
While Sweden focuses very heavily on not producing waste in the first place, the country’s 32 WTE stations burn almost as much trash as the country recycles. However, around 800,000 tons of that trash are imported from the UK, Italy, Norway and Ireland because the Swedes are such efficient reducers, re-users and recyclers.
The WTE system works on the principal that three tons of burnt trash contains as much energy as one ton of fuel oil. 950,000 Swedish households are heated by the energy produced by the system, and 260,000 households are powered by it.
Despite criticism of the incineration program, its proponents are quick to defend it. Anna-Carin Gripwall from Swedish Waste Management explains, “When waste sits in landfills, leaking methane gas and other greenhouse gases, it is obviously not good for the environment.
Waste-to-energy is a smart alternative, with less environmental impact, taking into account both by-products of incineration and emissions from transport. Plus, recovering energy from waste exploits a resource that would otherwise be wasted.” Sweden’s WTE plants also currently put out about half the emissions levels that they are permitted to by law.
The Swedes note that such a program is only feasible in a country with a good waste separation system, to ensure that recyclable materials, foodstuffs, and hazardous waste such as batteries, light bulbs and electrical waste aren’t incinerated. They are also clear that the best long-term solution for waste management is producing less waste in the first place. As Göran Skoglund from WTE company Öresundskraft states: “The world has a garbage problem, there is no doubt about that, but in the meantime, waste incineration and extracting energy from the waste is a good solution.” According to the EPA, in 2012 the U.S. only reclaimed 34.5 percent of its waste.
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