Sweden’s Remarkable ‘Waste-to-Energy’ Program …and why Canada should be taking notes!

While most people would probably consider the United States the most wasteful of all the developed nations, you might be surprised to learn that Canada throws away more trash than the U.S.  “Canada generates more municipal waste per capita annually than any of its peer countries. Canada earns a “D” grade and ranks in last place. In 2008, Canada generated 777 kg per capita of municipal waste—well above the 17-country average of 578 kg per capita and twice as much as Japan, the top-performing country”, explains the Conference Board of Canada in their recent report.

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Waste management is extremely important, and Canadians (well, all nations) shouldn’t take these statistics lightly.  Several environmental problems are related to municipal waste, such as habitat destruction, water pollution, and air and soil contamination.  Landfills emit methane and other gases that greatly contribute to global warming, not to mention the space that landfills take up, which could be green space, agricultural space, or at least used far more productively.

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While Canada is producing more waste than our landfills can handle, Sweden actually needs more trashNeeding trash may sound absurd to your average consumer, but Sweden has developed a remarkable ‘waste-to-energy‘ program that is turning all of its garbage into gold.

Sweden heats 810,000 homes and provides electricity to 250,000 homes from 2 million tonnes of waste each year.  Astoundingly, only 4% of household trash ends up in landfills.  Their system is so efficient that they in fact don’t have enough burnable trash for their waste-to-energy plants.  They’ve actually started to import around 8 hundred thousand tonnes of trash from the rest of Europe for energy production. Yes, they are importing trash!  Norway is currently paying Sweden to take away their waste, so Sweden is profiting economically on top of the energy being produced, while simultaneously cleaning out their landfills.  Brilliant.

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“Landfilling of organic waste has been forbidden in Sweden since 2005. Waste incineration has largely replaced landfills as a processing method, and emissions of the greenhouse gas methane from landfills has thus fallen dramatically. The waste sector reduced emissions of greenhouse gases by 34 per cent during the years 1990-2006.  A forecast from Klimatberedningen (the Climate Committee), appointed by the Swedish parliament and government, calculated that emissions will fall by 76 percent during the years 1990-2020,” reports Avfall Sverige, Swedish Waste Management.

Very progressive, Swedes!  Now it’s time for the rest of the world —especially Canada– to shape up and follow suit.

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9 Comments on “Sweden’s Remarkable ‘Waste-to-Energy’ Program …and why Canada should be taking notes!”

  1. andhastings January 30, 2013 at 5:38 pm #

    I have a love/hate relationship with Sweden. I love them because they’re so remarkably progressive in so many key areas, and I hate them because they’re so remarkably progressive in so many key areas. =P

    As a Canadian, I am embarrassed to hear that we rate so poorly in terms of waste management.

  2. daveclark955 January 30, 2013 at 6:00 pm #

    Wow. Between this and the Kyoto fail, it’s shameful to be Canadian these days

    • jpgreenword March 21, 2013 at 2:03 pm #

      May I add to your list: the Alberta Tar Sands expansion, the destruction of environmental regulations, the muzzling of scientists, the closing of important research facilities and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

  3. sustainablee January 30, 2013 at 11:19 pm #

    Reblogged this on Sustainablee.

  4. Landfiller February 14, 2013 at 12:18 pm #

    It is good to hear that waste and landfill problems are being tackled and that garbage issues are not being swept under the carpet. This is a subject which seldom gets an airing in pubilc, so it is good to read this article. Thanks for this.

    • utopiandreaming February 15, 2013 at 4:00 pm #

      Glad you found it useful! Garbage issues should definitely be receiving more attention.

  5. jpgreenword March 21, 2013 at 2:06 pm #

    I would be curious to know how the Sweeds are dealing with the issue of pollution from burning waste. And rather than CO2, I’m referring to toxic chemicals that are formed when burning waste. Anyone have any info on that?
    By the way, I still think what Sweden is doing is a great idea!

    • utopiandreaming March 21, 2013 at 2:45 pm #

      Was wondering that as well, but this report seems to say that despite higher incineration, toxins released have decreased significantly. Presumably this has to do with the way they are incinerating it to turn it into useable energy, but the report is not terribly clear on the *how*, just the statistics showing how much CO2 and toxic chemical emissions have decreased significantly. –>http://www.avfallsverige.se/fileadmin/uploads/forbranning_eng.pdf

      • jpgreenword March 21, 2013 at 2:52 pm #

        Like you said – it’s probably “how” they incinerate and, I would guess, use of filters for the worst of it.

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