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How Sweden sends just 1% of its trash to landfills

By District Energy posted 08-17-2022 15:25




As the world seeks out ways to shrink its open mountains of garbage, Sweden, a country that sends less than 1% of its waste to landfills, offers an alternate path. Much of Sweden's success in reducing landfill waste can be credited to its high recycling rates: between recycled solid waste and composted organic matter, Sweden recycles nearly half of what it throws away.

What it does with the other half is what sets Sweden apart from much of the world. Nearly all of Sweden's non-recycled waste is burned to generate electricity and heat. It's a method that, while emitting CO2, is far better for the climate than sending garbage to landfills, according to the Swedish government and proponents of waste-to-energy technology. "Energy recovery is the best available technology for treating and utilizing the energy in different residual wastes that can't easily be recycled," says Klas Svensson, a waste-to-energy technical advisor at Avfall Sverige, Sweden's waste management association. "For many other countries in Europe, it represents an opportunity to both replace Russian gas, and at the same time phase out landfilling." It also happens to earn Sweden a good deal of money.

Sweden was an early adopter of waste-to-energy. Its first plant started operating amid a post-war home-building boom in the late 1940s. The new houses were connected to district heating networks, which generate heat at a central location and pump it out to individual homes, rather than each house having its own boiler. Over the years, more of the energy powering these district heating networks was supplied by waste-to-energy power plants, with major expansions beginning in the 1970s. Today, Sweden has 34 waste-to-energy plants supplying 1,445,000 households with heat and 780,000 households with electricity — impressive figures for a country with a population of only 10 million.

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