Sweden: Making Money And Energy Off Of Euro Trash

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
At 96 percent, Sweden has one of the highest rates of recycling. So when the country began generating heat and energy from its trash, it should have come as no surprise they would eventually run out of garbage.
“We have more capacity than the production of waste in Sweden and that is usable for incineration,” Catarina Ostlund, Senior Advisor for the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency told Public Radio International.
This situation has caused the Scandinavian country to begin importing 800,000 tons of trash from its neighbors and charging them for it, allowing the Swedes to truly claim that one man´s trash is another man´s treasure.
In addition to being a revenue stream, Sweden´s waste-to-energy program generates about 20 percent of the country´s district heating that functions by pumping heated water into pipes that run through residential and commercial buildings. The program also generates electricity for a quarter-million Swedish homes.
Of all the countries that pay to export their trash to Sweden, Norway contributes the most. Sweden imports the trash from their neighbors to the north, incinerates it to produce heat and energy, and then ships the byproducts of the process, mainly ashes containing dioxins and heavy metals, back to Norway to be buried in a landfill. The entire process is still more cost effective for the Norwegians than placing the trash directly into a landfill.
According to Ostlund, the Scandinavian country maximizes the energy released by the trash by capturing both heat and energy from the incineration process.
“So that´s why we have the world´s best incineration plants concerning energy efficiency. But I would say maybe in the future, this waste will be valued even more so maybe you could sell your waste because there will be a shortage of resources within the world,” Ostlund said.
One concern associated with the waste-to-energy process is the emissions produced by the power plants. An official statement from the Swedish EPA asserts the government has been steadily working to reduce the amount of harmful emissions released by these plants.
“Sweden has had strict standards limiting emissions from waste incineration since the mid-1980s,” the statement reads. “Most emissions have fallen by between 90 and 99 per cent since then thanks to ongoing technical development and better waste sorting.”
She also anticipated Sweden would begin looking to profit by removing trash from countries across Europe that currently rely heavily on landfills.
“I hope that we instead 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,” Ostlund said.
If Sweden is to begin receiving both trash and revenues from other European countries, they must act soon as waste-to-energy initiatives have been introduced in Italy, Romania, Bulgaria, and Lithuania.
Ostlund added the future of the Swedish waste program should continue to focus on reducing waste and not just generating power from it.
“This is not a long-term solution really, because we need to be better to reuse and recycle, but in the short perspective I think it´s quite a good solution,” she said.