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Sweden relies on neighbours to combat waste shortfall

Sweden – Efficient waste management in Sweden means the great majority of household waste is recovered or reused. Only 4% goes to landfill, according to the latest report by the country’€™s waste management organisation, Avfall Sverige. However, there is a downside. The success of recycling has left Sweden with too little material to power its waste-to-energy facilities, requiring it to import heavily from neighbouring countries such as Norway.

Waste incineration in Sweden heats some 810 000 homes and provides to almost 250 000 households, Avfall Sverige says. This was why the shortage of combustible waste was having such a major impact, Catarina Ostlund, Senior Advisor for the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, has told Public Radio International.

The country is planning to import 800 000 tonnes of waste per year from the rest of Europe, predominantly Norway, to feed its power plants. Mrs Ostlund admitted this was hardly a ‘€˜long-term solution’€™, and said changes were necessary to Sweden’€™s approach to reuse and recycling. ‘€˜But from a shorter perspective, I think it’s quite a good solution,’€™ she added.

It is considerably cheaper for Norway to export its waste to Sweden than to burn it domestically, leading the two countries to strike a special arrangement under which Norway will pay Sweden to take the material off its hands. Mrs Ostlund said the heavy metals the ash contained needed to go to landfill, and it has been agreed that the ash would be exported back to Norway.

The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency has said it hopes also to take in waste from Italy, Romania and Bulgaria ‘€“ countries that still landfill the majority of their waste ‘€“ as well as the Baltic region. Mrs Ostlund explained: ‘€˜They don’€™t have incineration or recycling plants, so they need to find a solution for their waste.’€™

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