We’ve heard of importing goods and raw materials, but importing trash? That’s exactly what Sweden intends to do in order to compensate for its trash shortfall. Sweden burns trash to create about 20 percent of its heat, but the Swedes are so diligent about recycling that the country simply isn’t generating enough waste to create the heat they need.
Sweden only sends about 4 percent of its waste to landfills. To put that into perspective, the United States landfills about 67 percent of its waste. While that is great for Sweden’s environment, it isn’t so good for their Waste-to-Energy program, which is capable of treating up to two million tons of household waste, which is converted into heat and electricity.
The solution is to import waste from Sweden’s neighbor, Norway. Not only is Sweden taking trash off of their hands, Norway will pay them to do so. All told, Sweden plans to import about 800,000 tons each year, most of which will be used in the Waste-to-Energy program. Any toxic waste resulting from the burning will be returned to Norway. But in case you are thinking that Norway is getting the short end of the stick, don’t worry – they are happy with the agreement because exporting the trash is more economical than dealing with it.
In the future, Sweden hopes to be able to import from other countries that landfill a higher percentage of waste than Norway. “I hope that we instead will get the waste from Italy or from Romania or Bulgaria or the Baltic countries because they landfill a lot in these countries. They don’t have any incineration plants or recycling plants, so they need to find a solution for their waste,” says Catarina Ostlund, Senior Advisor for the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency.
images © Vincent Jones and Mike Pennington