Annually, more than 2.01 billion metric tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) is being produced all over the world. Only 13.5 per cent of the entire waste is being recycled! As per the estimation of the World Bank, by 2050, 3.40 billion metric tons of waste will be produced. Most of which will end up in landfill sites owing to the lack of proper waste management and recycling system. This waste creates toxins which in turn has been contaminating our soil, water and even air! The fact is, everyone produces waste but what they do with it is what becomes newsworthy. One of the Scandinavian countries, Sweden, for long, has been in the limelight for its revolutionary ways to recycle its waste and not only they recycle it, but they are also turning their waste into energy!
Sweden has become a global leader in its waste management and many countries are taking a leaf out of its book when it comes to managing their waste–thanks to its environmentally-conscious citizens, municipalities, trade associations, private companies and advanced waste management technology! Swedes believe in the philosophy of “reduce, reuse, recycle and recover” –the 4R of the waste management hierarchy. In a nation with a population of more than 10.04 million people, more than 99 per cent of the waste is recycled or recovered and only 1 per cent of the waste goes into landfills because of its efficient waste recycling system.
The waste recycling starts from the homes of the Swedes. Most of the waste recycling stations are located within the 300 metres of residential areas. The citizens carefully separate the waste — into recyclable and hazardous waste. They put glass, metal, food in different containers and the same is collected by the waste management systems. Food is converted into biogas; glass is either reused or melted to create new glass containers. They also practice “panta” where people deposit their cans and plastic bottles in exchange for money. It’s waste to energy (WTE) incineration plant burns as much waste as Swedes recycle and further, they import waste from its neighbouring countries too, to burn and produce more energy from it. In 2016, Sweden imported almost 2.3 million tonnes of waste from the UK, Norway, Ireland and other countries. In these incineration plants, the steam produced by the burning of the waste is used to spin turbines which in turn produces electricity. While the WTE technology is not 100 per cent environment-friendly in itself as it produces pollutants, however, continuous innovations are being done to reduce its impact on our ecosystem. Further, some experts argue that burning the waste to produce electricity will have lesser negative effects on the environment than letting it sit in a landfill and creating methane. It is known that methane has 30 times more heat-trapping capacity than that of carbon dioxide.
Swedes have been trying to implement recycling measures for more than three decades now and they have been incredibly successful in their endeavours to manage their waste. While in 2001, only 22 per cent of the waste was sent in landfills, now it has reduced to just 1 per cent. In the 1970s, Swedes only recycled 30 per cent of their waste, however, now they are aiming at 100 per cent recycling by the year 2020. It’s no surprise why the world has been singling out Sweden for its exemplary recycling and waste transformation on every international platform and we all can learn a thing or two from them.