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Sweden imports trash for energy

October 29, 2012 5:22pm
Yes, you read it right: Sweden is importing trash from its neighbors —and using the waste as fuel for its energy program.
 
The program is such a success that waste incineration plants in Sweden account for up to a fifth of the country’s district heating, Public Radio International reported.
 
But now, Sweden’s waste recycling program may have proven too successful.
 
“We have more capacity than the production of waste in Sweden and that is usable for incineration,” it quoted Catarina Ostlund, Senior Advisor for the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, as saying.
 
She said this means the country is producing much less burnable waste than it needs - it is not generating enough trash to power the incinerators, prompting it to import waste from European neighbors.
 
The solution? Importing about 800,000 tons of trash from the rest of Europe per year to use in its power plants.
 
Most of the imported waste comes from neighboring Norway a it is more expensive to burn the trash there and cheaper for the Norwegians to simply export their waste to Sweden.
 
Under the arrangement, Norway pays Sweden to take the waste and Sweden also gets electricity and heat.
 
Environmental balance
 
However, dioxins in the ashes of the waste byproduct pose a serious environmental problem.
 
Ostlund added there are also heavy metals captured within the ash that need to be landfilled. Those ashes are then exported to Norway.
 
“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.
 
Recycling
 
The PRI report said Sweden is “incredibly successful” in recycling, with only four percent of household waste ending up in landfills.
 
“The rest winds up either recycled or used as fuel in waste-to-energy power plants,” it said.
 
Sweden’s garbage burning syste, distributes heat by pumping heated water into pipes through residential and commercial buildings, and providing electricity for 250,000 homes.
 
It recovers the most energy from each ton of waste in the waste to energy plants, and energy recovery from waste incineration increased dramatically over the last few years.
 
Future plans
 
Ostlund said Sweden hopes Europe in the future will build its own plants so it can 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.
 
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.
 
Ostlund added it is also important 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 said. — TJD, GMA News
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