Less than one per cent of Sweden’s 2016 household waste went to landfill. 99% was reused or converted into renewable energy, providing heat and electricity for hundreds of thousands of households. One of the first countries to put a heavy tax on fossil fuels in 1991, Sweden has a recycling system so efficient that they import waste from other countries like the UK to keep their incineration plants in use.
“In the southern part of Europe they don’t make use of the heating from the waste, it just goes out the chimney. Here we use it as a substitute for fossil fuel,” stated Anna-Carin Gripwall, director of communications for the Swedish Waste Management’s recycling association. This system allows for private companies to handle the business aspects of importing and incinerating waste, but the actual energy goes into a national heating network to heat homes. The smoke from the recycling plants is made of 99.9 per cent non-toxic carbon dioxide and water, which is filtered—any substances left over from dirty filter water is used to replenish abandoned mines.
“Swedish people are quite keen on being out in nature and they are aware of what we need do on nature and environmental issues,” Gripwall says. Despite these successes, Swedish authorities are not satisfied. Gripwall says the eventual aim in Sweden is to stop people from sending waste to recycling in the first place; instead, they are actively promoting repairing, sharing and reusing, and assessing other futuristic waste collection techniques. In this respect, Sweden is a practical role model for the rest of the world.
Source: Hazel Sheffield, “Sweden’s Recycling Is So Revolutionary, The Country Has Run out Of Rubbish.” The Independent, December 8, 2016, http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/sweden-s-recycling-is-so-revolutionary-the-country-has-run-out-of-rubbish-a7462976.html.
Student Researcher: Amber Yang (San Francisco State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows (San Francisco State University)