In Sweden, they are burning H&M clothing instead of coal.

Vasteras waste to energy plant
© Vasteras waste to energy plant

They love waste-to-energy plants in Scandinavia. Bjarke Ingells designed a fabulous one in Copenhagen that is now a tourist attraction. In Sweden, 50 percent of waste is sent to incinerators sorry, waste-to-energy plants. Evidently, that waste also includes clothing from H&M. According to Bloomberg, the Vasteras plant just north of Stockholm operated by Malarenergi, has a deal to burn trash from H&M, which includes 15 tons of clothing.

“H&M does not burn any clothes that are safe to use,” Johanna Dahl, head of communications for H&M in Sweden, said by email. “However it is our legal obligation to make sure that clothes that contain mold or do not comply with our strict restriction on chemicals are destroyed.”

Most readers disagree with me when I complain about waste-to-energy, but I have been in the Copenhagen plants and seen the amount of plastic they are burning. Plastic is essentially a solid fossil fuel and is about 20 percent of what is burned by volume. The rest is garbage, and the CO2 is regarded as "natural". I quoted the EPA in an earlier post:

The EPA reports that incinerating garbage releases 2,988 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour of electricity produced. That compares unfavorably with coal (2,249 pounds/megawatt hour) and natural gas (1,135 pounds/megawatt hour). But most of the stuff burned in WTE processes—such as paper, food, wood, and other stuff created of biomass—would have released the CO2 embedded in it over time, as “part of the Earth's natural carbon cycle.”

But that's not really true; food could have been composted, wood and paper could have been shredded and turned into insulation. Instead, they have become addicted to garbage, even to the point where they are importing it from other countries. As Tom Szaky notes,

Waste-to-energy also acts as a disincentive to develop more sustainable waste reduction strategies. It may work better in the short term with strict pollution standards and as a last-resort for waste disposal, but it does not offer us a sustainable long-term solution. Preserving material (through recycling and reuse) already in circulation is a key component of sustainable development. Burning finite resources may not be the best approach down the line.

And now we find they are burning clothing.

Whenever I complain about waste-to-energy, I get attacked as being a tool of the fossil fuel industry, about wanting to maintain the status quo. Not at all; I believe we should eliminate waste, not bury or recycle or burn it. Jesper Starn of Bloomberg tells us that "Sweden prides itself on an almost entirely emission free-power system" and "by converting old plants to burn biofuels and garbage, the biggest Nordic economy is hoping to edge out the last of its fossil fuel units by the end of this decade. "

top of buildingLloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

But biofuels and garbage are not emission free; the old plant in Copenhagen had to be replaced because it exceeded European standards for dioxin and other pollutants; that is why Bjarke got to build his new marvel. This plant in Sweden is 54 years old, how clean is it? The Danes and Swedes love their waste-to-energy plants, but we shouldn't be burning garbage or clothing, it is too easy. We should not be making garbage in the first place.

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