Sweden imports waste from European neighbors to fuel waste-to-energy program

When it comes to recycling, Sweden is incredibly successful. Just four percent of household waste in Sweden goes into landfills. The rest winds up either recycled or used as fuel in waste-to-energy power plants.

Burning the garbage in the incinerators generates 20 percent of Sweden’s district heating, a system of distributing heat by pumping heated water into pipes through residential and commercial buildings. It also provides electricity for a quarter of a million homes.

According to Swedish Waste Management, Sweden recovers the most energy from each ton of waste in the waste to energy plants, and energy recovery from waste incineration has increased dramatically just over the last few years.

The problem is, Sweden’s waste recycling program is too successful.

Catarina Ostlund, Senior Advisor for the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency said the country is producing much less burnable waste than it needs.

“We have more capacity than the production of waste in Sweden and that is usable for incineration,” Ostlund said.

However, they’ve recently found a solution.

Sweden has recently begun to import about eight hundred thousand tons of trash from the rest of Europe per year to use in its power plants. The majority of the imported waste comes from neighboring Norway because it’s more expensive to burn the trash there and cheaper for the Norwegians to simply export their waste to Sweden.

In the arrangement, Norway pays Sweden to take the waste off their hands and Sweden also gets electricity and heat.  But dioxins in the ashes of the waste byproduct are a serious environmental pollutant. Ostlund explained that there are also heavy metals captured within the ash that need to be landfilled. Those ashes are then exported to Norway.

This arrangement works particularly well for Sweden, since in Sweden the energy from the waste is needed for heat. According to Ostlund, when both heat and electricity are used, there’s much higher efficiency for power plants.

“So that’s why we have the world’s best incineration plants concerning energy efficiency. But I would say maybe in the future, this waste will be valued even more so maybe you could sell your waste because there will be a shortage of resources within the world,” Ostlund said.

Ostlund said Sweden hopes that in the future Europe will build its own plants so it can manage to take care of its own waste.

“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,” Ostlund said.

In fact, landfilling remains the principal way of disposal in those countries, but new waste-to-energy initiatives have been introduced in Italy, Romania, Bulgaria, and Lithuania.

It is also important, Ostlund notes, for Sweden to find ways to reduce its own waste in the future.

“This is not a long-term solution really, because we need to be better to reuse and recycle, but in the short perspective I think it’s quite a good solution,” Ostlund concluded.

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About IDEA Industry News

EDITOR: Leonard Phillips, IDEA Director of Business Development, International District Energy Association (IDEA), a nonprofit association founded in 1909. len.idea@districtenergy.org; +1 508-366-9339.
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8 Responses to Sweden imports waste from European neighbors to fuel waste-to-energy program

  1. Pieter Pepermans says:

    Hi Len,
    I’m a belgian student “international business” and I’m currently doing an internship and my job is to do research on the waste flows in Europe. Is it possible to ask you some questions about it via e-mail?
    Thanks in advance,

  2. Hope says:

    Hello Len,
    I’m a PhD student in one of the Australian Universities and my research is related to waste management in developing economies. I will be interested in receiving an email from you for further discussion in relation to my interest, and possible collaboration with the country of my study location. Thanks for your anticipated cooperation.

  3. Abayomi Idowu says:

    I am interested in introducing this waste to energy system in my country where generate over 1 million tonnes a month and suffer from lack of electricity.

  4. Ian Leshao says:

    I would love to see this in person, it is unbelievable coming from a country where Landfills are being used this is so interesting.

  5. green habitat services says:

    Hello we are interested to build them in our city such a plant. Please contact us for cooperation?
    email: g.habitat@yahoo.com
    Hej intereseza oss och vår stad att bygga en sådan anläggning. Vänligen kontakta oss för samarbete?
    email: g.habitat@yahoo.com

  6. nick@sifec.ca says:

    pleas e send me the price of an incinerator imported in canada, for our innuit hamlet,
    we want to install this insinerateur in nunavut for each village 500people
    in thanking you in advance, we remain,

  7. Rose Woods says:

    Electricity for a quarter of a million homes , that’s impressive! And it’s great that Sweden wants to help countries that landfill a lot. faith in humanity restored!

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