A captivating story about Sweden is now trending in media outlets around the world this week. There’s a “recycling revolution” happening in Sweden, the Swedes are so good at reusing their garbage for energy that they now import trash from other European countries to keep their (state-of-the art) recycling plants functioning.
Why are we sending waste to Sweden? The Scandinavian country, their system is so far ahead because of a culture of looking after the environment. Which sources almost half its electricity from renewable energy, was one of the first countries to implement a heavy tax on fossil fuels in the year 1991. The recycling plants burn waste to generate energy and Sweden reportedly gets almost 50 percent electricity from renewable energy, that is used to power for Sweden’s district heating systems during the freezing Swedish winter.
According to statistics, over the past two decades, Sweden’s recycling system has become so advanced and so sophisticated that only less than 1% of its household waste has been sent to landfills since 2011.
Anna-Carin Gripwall (Director of communications for Avfall Sverige, the Swedish Waste Management’s recycling association) said in a statement, “Swedish people are quite keen on being out in nature and they are aware of what we need do on nature and environmental issues. We worked on communications for a long time to make people aware not to throw things outdoors so that we can recycle and reuse.”
This is despite Swedes producing the same amount of waste per year as other Europeans. The average Swede produces 460 kg of waste, slightly below the half-tonne European average. They have set up 32 waste-to-energy plants across the country which burn about over 2million tonnes of trash every year, 50% of the waste produced.
Every day, around 300 trucks arrive at a plant outside the city of Göteborg on the west coast of Sweden. They carry rubbish, but they are not there to dump the cargo. Instead, they deliver it to the plant’s special ovens, which burn it, providing heat to thousands of households (950 000 households equivalent to the requirements for 260 000 homes).
According to an Al Jazeera report, the country had imported 8,00,000 tonnes of garbage in 2014. Other European countries like Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, and Belgium, with their usual recycling facilities, are also among the ones that import waste. This system in Sweden is so visionary only due to their culture of environmental awareness.
Sweden has implemented a cohesive national recycling policy so that even though private companies undertake most of the business of importing and burning waste, the energy goes into a national heating network to heat homes through the extremely freezing Swedish winter, Anna-Carin Gripwall told The Independent.
Swedish municipalities are individually investing in futuristic waste management systems like automated vacuum technique in houses, removing the need for collection transport. Additionally, underground container systems have led to the freeing up of road space and get rid of any smells.
Do you think this model can work for Indian urban landscape?
I don’t see why not. But it takes time and effort. And communication! The government needs to put attention to waste management, both legislation and financing. You need to build plants for anaerobic digestion and incineration, invest in systems for sorting and recycling. You need to have or build an infrastructure to make use of the energy, from ex-residual waste and food waste. The easiest and the hardest part is probably working to reduce the amount of waste. The easiest because you don’t need to invest in plants and such. The hardest because it is very hard to change people’s consumption habits.
By recycling and in other ways optimizing our waste management we can not only save our natural resources, but it also helps to restrain indiscriminately climate change.