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Sweden has Run out of Rubbish for Waste-to-Energy Industry

Who would ever have thought that being ‘too green’ could cause problems? Sweden is finding this out first hand. The country is virtually pollution free and its cities streets are clean of garbage, yet this enviable situation is causing a paradoxical problem. Sweden relies on burning its waste to provide electricity and heat to hundreds of thousands of homes, and the country is now running out.

As a result of overzealous recycling, the nation of 9.5 million citizens must now import rubbish from other countries in order to feed its waste-to-energy incineration power plants. Each year the Scandinavian country imports 80,000 tonnes of garbage, mostly from Norway, to fuel homes and businesses.

The deal is actually working out very well for Sweden, despite the reliance on imports for its electricity production. Norway pays Sweden to take away its excess refuse. Sweden then burns it to create electricity and heat, and then sends the ashes left behind by the incinerated waste, and which contain many highly polluting toxins, back to Norway for disposal in land fill.

Related article: Switchgrass Fuel: Bush Wanted It, Obama Gets It

Sweden is clearly the world leader in terms of recovering energy from waste. Each year its two million tonnes of rubbish, along with extra imports, are almost completely recycled, with only 4% of all waste going into landfill. This remarkable ability should act as an example to other countries that produce massive amounts of waste, most of which they send to be buried in bursting landfills. Sweden’s model truly offers a route to sustainable living.


However Catarina Ostlund, the senior advisor to the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, believes that a new country should be used to provide the extra garbage needed. Norway itself is already very clean, with its own developed recycling sector. She suggests to Public Radio International that “instead we 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.”

If other countries around the EU begin to copy Sweden, then the shortage of waste could even lead some entrepreneurial minds to collect waste and sell it to energy companies at a premium. The shortage would certainly see its value rise.

By. James Burgess of Oilprice.com

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Leave a comment
  • Alexis Post on May 13 2014 said:
    What are the lead companies in Sweden for waste-to-energy now?


    Alexis Post
    Business Development
    REI California
  • BERNE CLARK on October 22 2013 said:
    Have you considered using a water/steam centrifuge in your waste gas stream to collect the ash and particulates in the Exhaust stream... The nessecary water/steam an be captured from incoming waste which will dried before it enters the furnace... The water/steam can be recirculated and used many times over..
    Your cost /downside is the addition of a conveyor and a drying room/area...
    For more details... Let's talk... I love this stuff.. Berne C..

    There are many more efficient and profitable ways to use your waste other than just burning it..

  • Christine Marie on October 09 2013 said:
    Burning waste does create toxic ash and emissions, but there are ways to mitigate emissions that make waste to energy a financially viable and environmentally responsible way to work towards a more sustainable future.

    While Europe is continuing to make strides both individually and politically towards innovation in waste management, we in the US are stuck between will and profit. There will always be arguments for financial viability and profit, and there will never be a solution that eliminates transportation of some sort of material.

    It seems to me that those living in Sweden have made individual commitments regarding their household waste management, and the government has made political commitments regarding large scale waste management, and the effort has created a country that is virtually pollution free (including the air, despite incinerating their garbage), landfills only 4-5% of their entire waste stream, has a higher than average life expectancy at 82 of other countries of their GDP ($525 billion) and produce less than half of the CO2 emissions than countries with twice the population (9.5 million in 2012).

    Will we ever learn?
  • Earl Mardle on September 28 2013 said:
    Jen has it partly right. The rest of the equation is the energy budget. The real reason for importing the waste is that the energy and financial budgets for the business are not yet into profit. Meanwhile, the further they have to ship the stuff, in two directions, with the return journey essentially empty, the less energy efficient the process becomes.

    I'd like to see the whole budget and then ask at what price of diesel does it cease to be economic.

    Also, what has happened to the coppicing for energy experiment that Sweden was conducting a decade ago? Do the two programmes overlap? If so, the waste stream can be valued at the margin rather than at the core of the "business".

    Nevertheless, we can admire the Swedes for their ability to come up with a responsible idea and actually carry it through. Its just a shame that we are now in a time when we are going to reach the limits of every such strategy long before the financial and energy budgets tip into profit.
  • Jen Stadler on September 22 2013 said:
    Burning waste creates toxic ash and emissions.

    Recycling along with anaerobic digestion (for biogas) and composting are the answers.

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