Sweden faces unique lack of garbage dilemma

In a recycling-happy land where more than a quarter of a million houses are powered by the incineration of waste, Sweden is facing a most unusual problem: they’re running out of fuel.

The impeccably clean Scandinavian nation of more than 9.5 million is quickly running out of garbage. Even the country’s landfills have run dry; their rubbish reserves completely depleted. Although many people may see this as a positive predicament for a country to be in, Swedes wholeheartedly disagree.

Since running out of their own waste, they’ve been forced to import garbage from neighboring countries, namely Norway. Sweden is so trash-strapped that officials are shipping more than 80,000 tons of refuse each year from anywhere they can get it.

The deal works more in favor for the Swedes than it does Norway in that Norway pays Sweden to take its garbage. Sweden then burns it for electricity and heat. The highly polluted ashes, filled with dioxins, are then returned back to Norway and landfilled.

Swedes are adamant when it comes to recycling. So much so, that only about four percent of the country’s waste actually ends up in landfills. With such a squeaky-clean record, this pertinacious habit has its drawbacks when given that they rely so heavily on waste for electricity and heat through their waste-to-energy incineration program as Catarina Ostlund, a senior adviser for the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency notes, “We have more capacity than the production of waste in Sweden and that is usable for incineration.”

It’s been suggested that Norway may not be the perfect partner for garbage trade as Ostlund points out, “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.”