How Just 3% of Denmark's Trash Ends Up in a Landfill (Video)


This is an entry in my series on Denmark's myriad efforts in the climate and clean energy arena, and why they seem to work. I'm trying to find out if Denmark-ifying societies around the world might stop climate change ... Photo courtesy of

Back in 1970, Amagerforbrænding, a waste-to-energy plant, was opened outside of Copenhagen. Over the years, the city added upgrades -- the plant generates 26 MW of power, and provides district heating to 140,000 residents in Copenhagen. It has considerably lower emissions than a coal plant, (though it produces significantly less power than a coal plant too). And thanks to plants like these, only 3% of Copenhagen's waste hits the landfill. The reset is either recycled or incinerated and turned into energy. Last week, I toured Amagerforbrænding, and sought to determine whether this kind of plant might warrant inclusion in my worldwide Denmark-ification agenda. Here's some brief video on what the plant looks like:

The sanitation department hauls its waste to this capacious, weirdly clean dumping zone. Trucks dump prodigious amounts of waste into the plant's core:

A massive, robotic crane then sorts the waste:

The garbage is incinerated in four furnaces. Water is then heated in boilers to high-pressure steam. It's then pumped through a flue gas cleaning system that removes the most harmful elements, ensuring that the emissions will meet Denmark's strict pollution regulations (the byproduct is clean enough that the need for a smokestack is eliminated). The steam then turns a turbine and generates electricity. The heat is captured and piped away. Waste-to-energy 101!

The solid byproduct of the incineration process -- the slag -- is then stored for use by construction companies, who purchase the stuff.

The entire process looks something like this:


Seems like a pretty good deal -- waste is kept out of landfills, energy is generated, heat distributed. And every last scrap is reused, if possible. The Utopianist in me holds that energies should be devoted to reducing consumption in general, and thereby the waste stream as well, and working to integrate more cradle-to-cradle products into daily life. But harnessing the energy of trash -- instead of letting it rot and releasing methane -- is a smart and pragmatic solution for the now.

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