The Tweet: “Sweden recycles so well that it has run out of garbage and now must import garbage from Norway to fuel its energy programs.”
Sweden imports over 800,000 tons of waste each year from around Europe to power its ‘Waste-to-Energy’ programme, according to Avfall Sverige, the Swedish waste management organisation. Because the country is so efficient at recycling there is a demand for more burnable waste: “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.
The majority of Sweden’s imported waste comes from Norway because incinerating waste there is expensive. In the deal, Sweden pays for the waste, incinerates it, and returns the byproduct for Norway to process.
Sweden’s waste incineration programme processes ‘over two million tons of household waste’ a year, providing heat for 810,000 homes and electricity for almost 250,000 homes. A report published in 2012 detailing Sweden’s Waste-to-Energy programme describes it as the ‘world’s best example’ of recovering the energy in waste.
“In Sweden alone, waste incineration generates as much energy as 1.1 million cubic metres of oil, which reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 2.2 million tons per year. This is as much CO² as 680,000 petrol-powered cars emit in a year,” reads the report.
In the future Sweden may look elsewhere for waste to incinerate as countries become better at processing their own waste: “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.
In total, only 4% of Sweden’s household waste is sent to landfill, with the rest either recycled or incinerated in the Waste-to-Energy programme.
“Forecasts show that waste incineration with energy recovery will increase dramatically throughout the world over the next few years, from 200 million tons per year in 2007 to around 240 million tons in 2012. Europe still dominates, but Asia and even North America are planning expansion of capacity,” concludes the report.