Waste-to-Energy.

Photo by P1r I flickr.com

Photo by P1r I flickr.com

Sweden, the country known for its some-assembly-required furniture, Vikings, Volvo’s, hockey players, and pop stars (think ABBA and Robyn), has a new claim to fame and its garbage, literally.

Since the 1980’s Sweden has been developing and refining the world’s most efficient waste-to-energy model.  In fact, it has become so efficient that Swedes cannot produce enough trash to run its facilities at full capacity and have recently started to import trash from Norway.  There is even speculation that other Scandinavian and Eastern European countries will follow Norway’s lead and let Sweden take out their trash.

The waste-to-energy system in Sweden takes any waste that is not hazardous, batteries, light bulbs, electrical, packaging, newspaper, metal, or plastic and incinerates it.  The incineration takes place in a closed system that doesn’t allow any of the heat or byproducts to escape.   The heat and byproducts are then captured and either converted into energy or into material waste, known as slag.

According to Avfall Sverige, Sweden’s waste management sector, this system provides enough energy to heat approximately 810 000 Swedish homes and provide electricity to another 250 000 homes.  This is all possible from the 500 kg of waste that the average Swede produces each year.  What is even more impressive is that only about 4% of all waste in Sweden ends up in a landfill.

The question that comes to mind is, if Sweden can do it, why can’t Canada and the rest of the world do this too?

Ultimately, Canada could adopt this method.  However, a number of factors in our waste management sector would have to change. 

For instance, incineration facilities would have to be built in across the country, as well as storage areas for slag.  This would also require a transition from our reliance on other energy sources to a waste-to-energy system.  New staff and regulators would also have to be trained and hired.

Tougher regulations about what is considered waste would also have to be put into place.  For instance, Sweden passed a law in 2005 that made it illegal to throw organic waste into the landfill, contributing to the overall effectiveness and environmental-soundness of the system as a whole.   Similar measures as well as public cooperation would have to occur to ensure that Sweden’s efficiency in waste-to-energy incineration were to be matched.

All in all, Sweden should be just as proud of its trash as it is of its famed treasures.