October 5, 2017 by John Crapper
Wouldn’t it be great if no household waste was wasted? If each and every item of refuse was turned into something else – new products, raw materials, gas or at least heat?
Sweden is almost there. More than 99 per cent of all household waste is recycled in one way or another. This means that the country has gone through something of a recycling revolution in the last decades, considering that only 38 per cent of household waste was recycled in 1975.
In fact, there is a city that actually is looking for and wanting more garbage. Every day, about 300 trucks arrive at the city of Göteborg on the west coast of Sweden. They carry garbage. They deliver it to a special plant that has special ovens, which burn it, providing heat to thousands of local homes. Now that is a Church of the Holy Shitters cool idea!
“The only fuel we use is waste,” says Christian Löwhagen, a spokesman for Renova, the local government-owned energy company operating the plant. “It provides one-third of heat for households in this region.” Across Sweden, 950,000 homes are heated by trash; this lowly resource also provides electricity for 260,000 homes across the country, according to statistics from Avfall Sverige, Sweden’s national waste-management association. With Swedes recycling almost half (47 percent) of their waste and using 52 percent to generate heat, less than 1 percent of garbage now ends up in the dump. “Sweden has the world’s best network of district heating plants” — essentially large ovens that use a variety of fuels to generate heat, which is then transported to consumers’ homes through a network of underground pipes — “and they’re well-suited for use of garbage,” says Adis Dzebo, an energy expert at the Stockholm Environment Institute. “By contrast, in many other countries the heat and electricity infrastructure is based on gas or other fossil fuels, so it’s not economical to start building plants that utilize garbage.”
But there is a problem. The Swedes (along with the Germans, Danes, the Dutch and Belgians) have become very good at recycling. There’s no longer enough garbage to meet their heating needs. They now have to import the trash that most other countries are trying to dispose of — some 800,000 tons in 2014, up from 550,000 tons in 2010, according to Avfall Sverige.
Last year Renova brought in 100,000 tons of foreign garbage, mostly from Britain, in addition to the 435,000 tons supplied by Swedish municipalities. In Stockholm, energy provider Fortum also imports garbage, and in the southern city of Malmö, the Sysav energy company brought in 135,000 tons of waste from Norway and Britain last year, according to the company’s communications director, Gunilla Carlsson. That’s an almost 100 percent leap from the year before.
They only burn waste that is free of recyclable materials.
It’s not that Swedish decision-makers foresaw the need to safely dispose of garbage when they started building a countrywide network of district heating plants a generation ago, but it turned out to be a fortuitous move when public concern over trash in landfills prompted the country to rethink its garbage-disposal policies. Today putting waste on the trash heap is banned, which means that municipalities have to sort, recycle and, yes, burn, their residents’ garbage. As a result, waste now constitutes 19 percent of the fuel used by district-heating plants, which heat half of Sweden’s households and also use biomass such as leftover tree branches from the logging industry. That makes Sweden the world leader in energy generated from garbage; it is followed by, in order, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Norway and Finland.
What a cool waste-end ass-forward way to solve a waste problem. Decrease the pressure for more landfills, turn something that has been considered waste into a valuable resource, and decrease the use of fossil fuels. And the utility companies get the trash for free and then turn around and sell the heat to their customers. A win all the way around.
You might think that the emissions from this process would be highly polluting but thanks to electric filters that give the particles a negative electric charge, it is almost entirely non toxic carbon and water.
Because waste in landfills generates methane, a concentrated form of CO2, the Swedish municipal association estimates that every ton of imported garbage — which would otherwise have been decomposing in landfills — saves 1,100 pounds of CO2 equivalent. Even if ships were to travel specifically to deliver this garbage, the trade would still end up a net positive for the environment.
As a result of Sweden’s ass-forward waste-end first thinking their trash needs are soaring. It is estimated the country will import 1/5 million tons of waste this year increasing to 2.3 million by the year 2020. The future lies in these waste to energy power plants.
Holy Shit this is a great and innovative way to deal with all the crap we now dispose of in landfills around the world.