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Empowering Our Communities To Redesign

Sweden’s Recycling (D)evolution

By Christopher Nicastro

Sweden is not known for its lack of innovation. In fact, in the 2016 Global Innovation Index conducted by Cornell University, INSEAD and WIPO, Sweden sits only behind Switzerland as the second most innovative country in the world. And while Sweden is credited with innovations like the Solar safe water system and Spotify, much of their innovative brain power has been channelled into tackling one of the world’s biggest problems – waste.

As the world ponders on and builds sustainable solutions to deal with waste, Sweden has taken immediate action, applying a drastic approach to waste management in large scale incineration. Home to a total of 32 incineration plants, Sweden has incinerated an average of nearly 50% of all its Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) between 2000 and 2015.

Thanks to their increased efforts in incineration, the amount of trash sitting in Sweden’s landfills measures only 1% of their total MSW, eliminating harmful greenhouse gases (GHG) like methane, which is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, from the atmosphere. Additionally, Sweden has found success in decreasing its dependency on fossil fuels by harnessing energy from the waste itself through incineration. Roughly three tons of waste equals one ton of fuel oil, which is quite a good ratio considering waste is more abundant than fossil fuel in this day in age. In fact, it’s for this very reason that Sweden has turned waste into a lucrative commodity. By selling their incineration services and importing trash from countries that are willing to pay the price for greener pastures, Sweden has deepened their pockets and captured nn more energy for its plants and municipal utility services.

In relation to waste management, it would seem like Sweden has reached the Promised Land. Even if that were true in the short term, on a large scale, and in the long term, this strategy has negative effects on the very foundations of zero waste and the circular economy.

Recycling (D)evolution

Sweden claims to be undergoing a recycling revolution, boasting that they recycle nearly 100% of household waste. But how could that be true when nearly 50% of their waste is incinerated. Incineration and recycling are two completely different things. Between 2000 and 2015, Sweden recycled an average of 33% of its total MSW (excluding compost).  In 2015 alone, Sweden recycled only 32% of its total MSW (48% with compost included), which is still a ways away from the European Commission’s common EU MSW recycling target of 65% by 2030. When it’s all said and done, however, Sweden ranked sixth among European countries in recycling in 2015. That might seem like cause for celebration, but their increased focus on incineration over the years has brought about stagnation in recycling rates since 2006.

An incinerator facility in Sweden / photo by Johan Gunséus/Synk (CC-BY-ND 3.0)

Dependency on Waste

Sweden’s stagnating recycling rate is concerning because as waste incineration becomes an increasingly reliable source of energy for them and their dependency on it grows, there is less motivation to better recycling efforts countrywide. In some cases, sorted trash actually gets incinerated, further demotivating municipalities and individuals to invest time and money into waste separation. For this reason, many recyclables are lost through incineration, leading to the destruction of valuable goods that would normally contribute to a higher, more efficient recycling rate and production cycle.

A Costly A(ir)ffair

Sweden’s increased dependency on incineration for their energy and economic needs has prompted them to continue building plants, which are very costly to both build and run, not to mention the pollutants that they produce. According to the EPA, quoted in Treehugger and Slate, incineration plants release about 1.3 times the amount of CO2 per megawatt generated than burning coal does, and they have been shown to release many other toxic chemicals such as dioxins. And while much of the CO2 would have been emitted from the waste over time anyway if left untouched, the fact that it’s being released all at once is cause for concern. From a cost perspective, a cost-benefit analysis on waste incineration conducted by Columbia University shows that plants can cost upwards of 100 million euros to construct and anywhere from 3 – 7 million euros yearly to maintain. And in order to make a return on investment, incineration plants have to process steady amounts of waste. This puts Sweden between a rock and a hard place as their reliance on generating waste to keep up with their energy and economical demands goes against their zero waste claims and the very basis of the circular economy.

Importing garbage for energy is good business for Sweden from Sweden on Vimeo.

Creating Long Term Solutions

Weine Wiqvist, Swedish Waste Management and Recycling Association CEO, cited “’Zero waste’ – that is our slogan. We would prefer less waste being generated, and that all the waste that is generated is recycled in some way. Perfection may never happen, but it certainly is a fascinating idea.”

Hopefully Sweden will strive towards increasing their recycling targets moving forward and lessening their overall MSW, however, as it currently stands, their actions do not correlate with the principles of zero waste, unlike their official claims. Under zero waste, the goal is not to use waste as a commodity, but to eliminate it altogether. A system based on reducing, reusing, and recycling can take us there, but only if large scale incineration is restrained. The European Parliament’s ENVI committee has recently proposed to exclude financial support for the incineration of mixed MSW, effectively restraining large scale incineration and prioritising waste reduction if approved at the parliament level.

So what’s your move, Sweden?

Christopher Nicastro

Christopher Nicastro

As a guy who has a passion for sustainability and eco alternatives, Chris naturally came upon the Zero Waste revolution back in 2014. To Chris, Zero Waste not only fuelled his desire to shape a world without waste, but also opened him up to a lifestyle based on harmony through simplification and purpose. Today, Chris continues his journey and seeks to inspire those through written word to put an end to waste by taking action.
Christopher Nicastro

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UKWIN officially ‘earthMovers’

On Saturday 3rd June 2017 Zero Waste Europe member UKWIN (UK Without Incineration Network) received an Earthmovers Award for Outstanding Community Campaign from Friends of the Earth (FoE) at Basecamp, which is FoE’s annual environmental festival .

UKWIN coordinator with the Earthmovers award

Accepting the award, the UKWIN National Coordinator Shlomo Dowen said: “Over the past decade UKWIN has been blessed with hundreds of dedicated, passionate and conscientious volunteers, who have made a real difference in their communities. I dedicate this award to all of UKWIN’s worthy volunteers, and pay special tribute to two of them.”

Shlomo spoke of Mick Bee’s sense of humour and Jeff Meehan’s extraordinary determination, noting that the culture of mutual support and camaraderie that they embodied, and that so many fellow anti-incineration campaigners continue to exhibit, has helped make UKWIN such a successful and formidable campaign network.

At Basecamp UKWIN was involved in workshops on the barriers that incineration pose to recycling and the circular economy, on opportunities for local Zero Waste campaigning, and on the great work being done around the country to tackle food waste.

Those interested in joining UKWIN network can do so via ukwin.org.uk/join and those interested in helping fund the cause can do so via ukwin.org.uk/donate


PRESS RELEASE: European Parliament’s report calls for halt on harmful subsidies to waste incineration

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Brussels, 07/06/17

Zero Waste Europe welcomes the ENVI committee’s draft report on the revision of the Renewable Energy Directive. This report represents a first important step towards the alignment of EU energy and circular economy policies, by excluding financial support for incineration of mixed municipal solid waste.

“We have been calling for the elimination of financial support for energy extraction from mixed waste as this subverts one of the key cornerstones of the EU waste policy – the waste hierarchy” said Janek Vahk, Development and Policy Coordinator at Zero Waste Europe. Such a hierarchy establishes an order of priority in waste prevention and management: waste is therefore meant to be firstly prevented, then prepared for reuse, and recycled.

The effect of the financial support to waste to energy has so far resulted in a clear distortion of the market, whereby the choice of waste management options and the investment in waste infrastructure have been based on such subsidies, rather than on a sound environmental and economic performance. As a consequence, several European countries, e.g. Denmark and Sweden, have overinvested in energy from waste plants, whilst underinvesting in recycling facilities.

“We hope that this is now going to change – continued Vahk – and that the European Parliament will take on this report, and prioritise waste reduction, reuse and recycling over waste to energyschemes”.

ENDS

RESOURCES 

Zero Waste Europe’s position on the Revised Renewable Energy Directive

CONTACTS

Janek Vahk, Development and Policy Coordinator
janek@zerowasteeurope.eu
+32 (0) 2 503 64 88


Can Rome go zero waste?

About Rome and Zero Waste – Rossano Ercolini and Zero Waste Italy meet the government of the municipality of Rome.

On the 6th of June, a delegation from Zero Waste Italy and Zero Waste Europe president, and Goldman Prize winner Rossano Ercolini held a positive meeting with Pinuccia Montanari, the councillor for the environment of the municipality of Rome, her staff and the president of AMA (the municipal waste management company for Rome), Lorenzo Bagnacani.

President of the Board, Rossano Ercolini
Rossano Ercolini, receiving the Goldman Prize

The group focused on the fundamental steps Rome should take in order to begin the zero waste path, taking into consideration the important role of civil society, industries and political leadership.

“The plan is to transform the MBT [mechanical biological treatment] plants in “material factories”, removing all interests related to incineration as way to treat waste, and moving towards door-to-door separate collection of waste with the consequent reduction of residual waste. Home-composting, the selling of light-packaging products and reuse/repair practices should be encouraged also in terms of job opportunity.” Montanari and Ercolini explained.

Rome, a world leader? 

Rome could become an example for the world, showing how even a complex and highly populated city could work towards the zero waste solution, when strongly supported by the political leadership. For this reason, the local town hall has started the process to make Rome a zero waste community, formalising the zero waste observatory (called Osservatorio Capitolino), composed of the most important national environmentalist associations.

Dr. Paul Connett speaking at Network of Zero Waste Towns. Photo: Maša Kores

In order to facilitate this process from an international perspective, it has been decided that an international task force will be created, as proposed by Zero Waste Italy. This team of experts should be composed of representatives from Zero Waste Italy, Zero Waste Europe, individual experts such as Prof. Paul Connett, Jack Macy from the municipality of San Francisco and Jeffrey Morris, an expert in circular economy.

The task force would also have the task of stressing the importance of “Rome towards zero waste” as an international example, leading the Italian capital city to the “zero waste by 2021” goal.

This is a challenge that will need the cooperation of all civil civil society, the environmentalist associations and the political leadership.