Swedes generally waste as much as people in other countries, around 461 kilograms per person each year - but only one percent of that is ending up in landfill, thanks to the country’s innovative “recycling” program.
While the Scandinavian country focusses primarily on reducing waste and reusing and recycling items, it has an important extra step in the waste cycle - it burns half its rubbish to generate energy.
The country has 32 waste-to-energy (WTE) plants, where waste is incinerated to produce steam, which is then used to turn generator turbines and produce electricity. Across Sweden, WTE plants provide almost one million homes with heating, and 260,000 with electricity, Zi-Ann Lum reports for the Huffington Post Canada.
This not only cuts down on the amount of waste that ends up in landfills, it also helps reduce the country’s reliance on fossil fuels.
“A good number to remember is that three tonnes of waste contains as much energy as one tonne of fuel oil … so there is a lot of energy in waste,” Göran Skoglund, spokesperson for Öresundskraft, one of the country’s leading energy companies, explains in the video below.
Each year, more than two million tonnes of trash is burnt in Sweden, which means it’s producing approximately 670,000 tonnes worth of fuel oil energy.
To keep up the demand of its WTE plants, Sweden is now even buying waste from the UK, Italy, Norway and Ireland.
However, it’s not a perfect solution - there is plenty of controversy surrounding the burning of garbage. Critics are concerned that the process is counteracting any positive affects by sending more toxins into the atmosphere. The WTE process produces filter ash and flue gas, both byproducts that contain dioxins, and environmental pollutant.
But Sweden has heavily regulated their WTE plants to reduce emissions and according to the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, the introduction of flue-glad cleaning has reduced airborne dioxins produced to “very small amounts”.
There are still some objects, however, that can’t be incinerated safely - any goods that contain porcelain, insulation, asbestos, tiles and other construction debris have to be dumped into landfill.
And although it’s a good solution, an even better one is to reduce waste altogether. “The world needs to produce less waste,” Skoglund told the Huffington Post.
Watch the video below to find out more about how Sweden uses its waste: