The environmentally friendly capital of Sweden has become a game-changer in the world of recycling. Not only is it an obvious benefit to the environment. Estimates show that Sweden imports around 2 trillion tons of trash from surrounding countries. It contributes to bring the overall European carbon footprint down. Several European countries are now exporting trash to Stockholm.
Sweden is aiming for a zero-waste society. This takes the country’s recycling revolution one step further – from dumping rubbish in landfills, to recycling to reusing. Thanks to the sensitiveness of the citizens to the environment and sophisticated collection techniques, Sweden recycles an astonishing 99 percent of locally-produced waste. Only 1% of its trash is going to landfills.
The most environmentally friendly people in the world
The Swedes are probably the most environmentally friendly people in the world. The Swedes regularly separate their empty cartons and packaging into containers in shared trash areas, and that is just one of the two tons of rubbish Swedes recycle per person each year. The percentage of recycled waste by households has increased from 38 percent in 1975 to at least 99 percent today.
The Behavior Lab
Beteendelabbet (The Behavior Lab) is a lab that specializes in sustainable living. On one hand, it seeks to stop behaviors that are damaging the planet. On the other hand, it instills values into families that don’t just have a recycling mindset, but also one that focuses on creating patterns and new behavioral cycles that will reduce single-use products and automatically choose environmentally-friendly products.
Ida Lemoine, the founder of Beteendelabbet, says, ‘We think people need services that make it easy to do the right thing. We need to make it possible for ourselves as consumers to share and reuse all kinds of gadgets, clothes and furniture, and even our workspaces and homes.’
Burning waste is kinder to the environment
Experts say that landfills are a major contributor to global emissions of the greenhouse gas, while burning waste is kinder to the environment. The energy content of the waste is a critical component of using it as efficiently as possible and while some are used to fuel vehicles, others make their way to warming houses. Trash is not considered trash in Sweden, but rather an energy source that can be put to good use. The entire process is designed with the environment in mind, with even air filters repurposed for other uses.
Related: Climate-Smart Airports in Sweden
Between 2005 and 2014 the import of trash from the UK, Norway, Ireland and other countries has increased four-fold. In 2016 Sweden imported almost 2.3 tons of waste, paid by the exporting countries. Part of the reason Sweden is so efficient at dealing with their waste is that they put their waste to good use.
Circular economy is an approach that involves using products that can be reused completely, a so-called cradle-to-cradle approach. In 2018 the Swedish government even established a special advisory group to help it make circular economy a key part of its policy. Of the household waste produced in Sweden in 2017, around 15.5 percent was used for biological recycling, 33.8 percent for material recycling and 50.2 percent went to energy recovery.
In 2017 the Swedish government reformed the tax system so that people could get cheaper repairs on used items, and Swedish clothing giant H&M operates a recycling scheme where customers get a discount upon handing in old clothes. Meanwhile, researchers are working on finding new clothing materials that are less damaging to the environment.
“If you incinerate one ton of Italian waste in Sweden you get 500kg CO2 equivalent less emissions than if it is dumped in a landfill in Italy. That’s a substantial reduction,” said Johan Sundberg, Energy and Waste Consultant at Profu.
While mass-adoption of this model might not work everywhere, it acts as inspiration for cities and nations who want to be more sustainable.
Exporting Trash to Stockholm, compiled and written by Tor Kjolberg