Sweden is importing garbage from its neighbors to keep the lights on, reports Mother Nature Network.
Sweden’s waste-to-energy program generates about 20% of the country’s district heating that functions by pumping heated water into pipes that run through residential and commercial buildings. The program also produces electricity for 250,000 Swedish homes, writes Red Orbit.
However, the country is running out of garbage, due mainly to its highly successful recycling rate which stands at 96%. Only 4% of the country’s waste is land-filled. Land-filling of organic materials has been forbidden in Sweden since 2005. For this reason, there is insufficient waste for incineration, explains Catarina Ostlund, Senior Advisor for the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency. In response to the dwindling waste levels, Sweden’s government has to import 80,000 tons of garbage annually to provide power to the Scandinavian nation of over 9.5 million.
The garbage removal also creates a steady revenue stream for Sweden as the country charges for this service. Of all the countries that pay to export their garbage to Sweden, Norway contributes the most. Sweden imports the garbage from their neighbors, incinerates it to produce heat and energy, and then returns the byproducts of the process, mainly ashes and heavy metals, back to Norway to be buried in a landfill. The entire process proves to be more cost-effective for the Norwegians than placing the garbage into a landfill, explains Red Orbit.
Although the process of using waste to create energy is environmentally friendly on one level, officials are concerned about the power plants’ emission levels. However, the Swedish EPA claims that the government is working to reduce the level of harmful emissions released. According to a report, Sweden has set strict standards since the 1980s with regards to limiting emissions from waste incineration. The government states that most emissions have fallen by between 90 and 99%, thanks to ongoing technical development and better waste sorting.
The country is currently focusing its attention on countries like Italy, Romania, Bulgaria and the Baltic countries that have landfills and are looking for solutions for their waste to be removed.
Sweden will need to look at waste-to-energy as a short term solution and rather focus its attention on other more sustainable solutions.