A look inside Sweden's recycling-obsessed, garbage-powered cities (video)

Sweden garbage
Screen capture Vimeo

Last year, I wrote about how Sweden has a garbage problem. But rather than too much, as in most of the rest of the world, there's a shortage and they have to import it from other countries like Norway, the UK, Italy, etc. This might seem strange - who would want more garbage? - until you realize how Sweden does things. They have a very sophisticated recycling system that allows them to capture materials that can be used again (metals, glass, paper, plastics, etc) and send less than 1% of waste to landfills, and they have many cogeneration plants that incinerate the rest to generate heat and electricity to help run their cities.

Right now, Sweden has to import about 800,000 tons of garbage from other countries each year to keep its cogen plants operating at capacity, something that other countries are only to glad to help them with since restrictions on landfills are growing.

Sweden garbage incineratorVimeo/Screen capture
Is this a good thing? A bad thing?

First, let's look at how they actually do it:

There are of course pros and cons to this. The best solution, as mentioned at the end of the video, is of course not to produce garbage in the first place. Zero waste initiatives are gaining tractions and progress is being made, but we still have a lot of garbage, so the choice isn't a perfect world without garbage or Sweden's approach. The alternative is, sadly, mostly just some recycling + landfilling. And that's not without problems. Landfills are big emitters of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, and they can leach all kinds of toxins into the ground and water. At least with incineration you get some heat and electricity out of it, and if done well at high-enough temperatures, you can destroy most toxins and contain the rest.

What do you think? Do you like Sweden's approach to dealing with garbage?

Via Truth Theory

A look inside Sweden's recycling-obsessed, garbage-powered cities (video)
Is Sweden a model for the rest of the world on waste, or is there a better way to do things?

Related Content on Treehugger.com