Sweden’s waste-to-energy program is going strong, as the country announces that now only 1 percent of their waste goes to landfills, while the remaining 99% are reused or recycled.
About two years ago, all news feeds were flooded with the announcement that Sweden does not have enough waste on the country’s territory to maintain their 32 incineration plants. The news was of course greeted by the rest of the continent, with the UK and Italy taking the full advantage of it and quickly sending their garbage to the Scandinavians. Back then, Sweden was already reusing and recycling an impressive 96% of their waste, but clearly there was room for improvement.
Sweden has adopted a unique waste management system, which ranks the different ways garbage can be handled. Firstly and most importantly they encourage people to generate as little waste as possible, but whatever is disposed of is either reused or recycled. Then there is the so-called “recycling alternative” stage, which is essentially incineration, and only in the few cases where none of the above is possible, garbage is sent to landfills.
The most interesting, and of course heavily questionable and controversial, stage is the “recycling alternative” stage, which is also the main focus of the waste-to-energy program. Although quite a large portion of what goes inside the incinerators is not actually produced by the Swedish households, what comes out of it is the countries most precious product.
Each year, 2 million tons of trash is converted to energy, which provides heating to nearly 1 million households, and power to 260,000 households. These numbers are very impressive, and clearly demonstrate that no resource should be wasted when it comes to energy generation. Of course, what helps is that the country has an advanced waste separation system, which makes sure that only materials that cannot be recycled or reused end up in the incinerators.
Controversial or not, the numbers speak for themselves. Three tons of incinerated waste produces enough energy as one ton of oil, and we all know how precious (and polluting) that latter one is.
Image (c) The New York Times