Sweden Recycles A Staggering 99% Of Its Garbage

Swedish recycling system

Sweden currently recycles or reuses an incredible 99% of its waste, a figure that surpasses the 2012 record of 96%. The country uses a hierarchical waste management system, which focuses on prevention, reuse, recycling, alternatives to recycling, and as a last resort, landfill disposal. While only 1% of the annual average of 461 kg of waste that each Swede produces, it is still causing controversy, as it involves the incineration of around two million tons of garbage per year.

Norwegians and Swedes are obsessed with caring for nature, its most precious asset.

Sweden imports garbage for incineration

Sweden and Norway share a model.

While Sweden focuses as a fundamental point on not producing waste as a cornerstone of its system, 32 WTE stations (energy-producing incineration plants) in the country burn almost as much garbage as the country recycles. But it has a trick, because around 800,000 tonnes of rubbish are imported from the UK, Italy, Norway and Ireland, since the Swedes are so efficient and recyclers that they need to import rubbish. The WTE system works from the beginning that three tons of burned garbage contains as much energy as one ton of fuel oil. 950,000 Swedish homes are heated by the energy produced by the system, and 260,000 homes are fully supplied by it.

How has Sweden achieved what they call the recycling revolution?

With collective work and the education of its inhabitants.

By law in Sweden there must be recycling stations in every residential area. Most of the Swedes separate all recyclable waste at home, deposit it in special containers in their homes and then take it to recycling stations.

Everything is recycled, reused or credited. The water is purified until it is drinkable. Special care is also taken in the collection and recycling of electronic waste and hazardous waste.

An example, as Pal Mikkelsen, general director of the municipal agency, tells us:

12% of the waste we use to run our Klemetsrud plant in Oslo is imported.

This Norwegian city has exceeded the capacity to process the waste of its 1.4 million inhabitants and now has to import garbage from other countries to power the plants that generate heat and electricity to the city.

How garbage is turned into electricity.

Despite criticism of the cremation program, its defenders are quick to defend it. Anna-Carin Gripwall, Head of the Swedish Waste Management System explains,

“When waste is in landfills, leaking methane gas and other greenhouse gases, it is obvious that it is not good for the environment. Waste-to-energy (WTE: garbage to energy) is a smart alternative, with a lower environmental impact, taking into account both the by-products of incineration and transport emissions. Furthermore, energy recovery from waste exploits a resource that would otherwise be lost.

The Swedes know that such a program is only feasible in a country with a good waste separation system, to ensure that recyclable materials, food and other hazardous waste such as batteries, light bulbs and electrical waste are not incinerated. They are also clear that the best long-term solution to waste management is to produce less waste in the first place.

The process that is followed to convert garbage into electricity is very simple. First, an optical reader separates the bags by color (in these countries they separate the waste by colored bags). The blue ones, with plastics, are sent to recycling plants to take advantage of the material. The green ones, with food scraps, are used to obtain fertilizers, compost  and the biogas used by buses. The white ones go to incineration in a furnace of 850 ° C.

The heat produced boils water and its steam has two functions: it moves a turbine to generate electricity that is used in schools and feeds the municipal heating network.

After incineration, 20% of the garbage entered turns into ashes which are buried.

Actually importing garbage is good business. The Norwegians, for example, charge the English between $30 and $40 per ton to import their garbage ready to incinerate (without plastic, metal or glass).

garbage incineration in sweden

For Göran Skoglund from WTE Öresundskraft:

“The world has a garbage problem, no one doubts that, but in the meantime, incineration to produce energy from waste is a good solution. It also helps reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels “

What is also clear is that either we drastically reduce our global garbage production or the problem will not have a solution in a short time, planet earth will be a dump of global proportions.

Some facts about Swedish recycling:

  • 96% of garbage is recycled or diverted to incineration plants.
  • 250 thousand homes are supplied with electricity generated by garbage and 20% of the homes have heating from garbage treatment.
  • Finally, public landfills in Sweden only receive 4% of their waste.
  • In the houses they separate: organics, metals, batteries, colored glass, transparent glass, hard plastic, soft plastic, cardboard and Tetra Pak, papers, newspapers and magazines.
  • The mysterious and puzzling “death of the Kiwi”
  • Plans to build furniture reusing pallets
  • Great initiative: A website to donate and find for free! wood and pallets
  • The smallest coffee machine in the world, does not need electricity, capsules or filters
  • The Leyat Helica Propeller Car: A Wonderfully Bad Idea

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