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.
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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.