Sweden Now Recycles a Staggering 99 Percent of its Garbage

by , 09/03/14

Swedish recycling 1

Sweden now recycles or reuses an incredible 99 percent of its waste, an improvement on the already impressive 2012 figure of 96 percent. The country uses a waste management hierarchy system that focuses in descending order on prevention, reuse, recycling, recycling alternatives, and as a last resort, disposal in landfill. While only one percent of the average annual 461 kilograms of waste that each Swede produces winds up at the landfill stage, it is the “recycling alternatives” stage that is still causing controversy, as it involves the incineration of around two million tons of trash a year in the country’s Waste-to-energy (WTE) program.

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.

Related: Sweden Plans to Import 800,000 Tons of Garbage Each Year

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.

Via The Huffington Post

Photos by Sweden Media via Flickr

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  1. Cedric Smith April 6, 2015 at 9:36 am

    Organic, compostable plastics can now replace petrolium based plastic in many applications. Polyhydroxyalkanoates, PHA, like polylacticacid, PLA, are environmentally friendly choices. Also, if they end up in a WTE program, they burn clean.

  2. andreas111 October 19, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    A Swedish innovation, http://www.wecycle.se is a game changer in electronics and equipment recycling. I had my unwanted items picked up from my home for free of charge and was recycled in a very efficient manner.

  3. edrcook October 17, 2014 at 4:33 am

    I refer to your article above which states that Sweden recycles 96% of its waste. It does not. Please see http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/tgm/table.do?tab=table&plugin=0&language=en&pcode=t2020_rt120 which provides a list of recycling rates for EU member states. Sweden’s figure for recycling and “preparation for reuse” is 47.6% and has barely changed in 10 years.
    The phrase “recycling alternatives”, should actually read “recovery”. It’s important that this phrase is not confused with “recycling” as it misrepresents the treatment technology employed and its efficacy. Sweden did not invent this hierarchy, it is imposed by the European Waste Framework Directive which can be found here http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32008L0098&from=EN.
    I suggest you remove the entire article as it is grossly misleading.
    Please feel free to contact me if you wish to discuss this matter further.
    Kind regards
    Ed Cook

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