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Waste to Energy

Making waste a valuable resource - Sweden's take on waste

In Sweden we talk of the kretsloppssamhället – a society that chooses to reuse. That recycles its waste and is in tune with the eco-cycle. In 1994, the year before Sweden joined the EU, the government introduced producer responsibility, which shifted responsibility for recycling product waste from municipalities to the business sector. At that point Sweden was the only country in the world with law-enacted producer responsibility.

New legislation that came into force in 2002 required that combustible waste be separated from other waste. Disposal of combustible waste in landfill is banned and tax incentives are in place to encourage incineration of combustibles. Sorting has proven to be a prerequisite for recovering useful material from waste and ensuring hazardous waste does not go astray. 

A nationwide network of almost 6,000 recycling stations caters for everything from household garbage to electronic waste. The stations are financed and run by trade organizations representing packaging producers. Today, recycling is so well entrenched that going to the local recycling depot to dispose of bottles, cans, paper, batteries and other recyclable goods is a natural part of everyday Swedish life.

Waste treatment has been revolutionized since the 1970s. Back then, the bulk of household waste was buried in landfill. When the new waste policy was introduced in the 1970s, the message was clear: as little waste as possible should go to landfill. All recyclable material should be recycled where possible, or incinerated for energy recovery.

District heating 

District heating is the commonest form of heating in Sweden. More than half of all residential and commercial buildings use it – and around 90 percent of apartment blocks. 

Sweden’s municipalities took a lead  in the building communal district energy networks – another benefit of local government. Centralizing heat production, instead of every house having its own boiler, quickly improved air quality. When district heating plants replaced fossil fuels with renewable and recycled energy, emissions fell even more. Today, every Swedish town of 10,000 people or more has a district-heating grid. District heating not only makes cities cleaner; it has also cut Sweden’s national CO2 emissions by 20 percent in two decades.

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