swedenSweden Out of Garbage

Imagine a world where pollution is a non-issue, cities are pristine, healthy environments to live in, and little to no entanglements from discarded trash injures wildlife or clogs the oceans. In Sweden, this is almost a reality, yet it’s causing a paradoxical predicament for the recycle-happy country that relies on waste to heat and provide electricity to hundreds of thousands of homes.

The Scandinavian nation of more than 9.5 million citizens has run out of garbage; while this is a positive – almost enviable – predicament for a country to be facing, Sweden now has to search for rubbish outside of its borders to generate its waste-to-energy incineration program. It’s namely Norway officials who are now shipping in 80,000 tons of refuse annually to fuel the country with outside waste.

The population’s remarkable pertinacious recycling habits are inspiration for other garbage-bloated countries where the idea of empty landfills is scarce. In fact, only 4 percent of all waste in Sweden is land-filled, a big win for the future of sustainable living. By using its two million tons of waste as energy and scrapping for more outside of its borders, this country is shown in international comparisons to be the global leader in recovering energy in waste. Go Sweden.

Public Radio International has the whole story. This (albeit short-term) solution is even highly beneficial for the Scandinavian country; Norway pays Sweden to take its excess waste, Sweden burns it for heat and electricity, and the ashes remaining from the incineration process, filled with highly polluting dioxins, are returned back to Norway and land filled.

Catarina Ostland, senior advisor for the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, suggests that Norway may not be the perfect partner for the trash import-export scheme, however. “I hope that instead we will get the waste from Italy or from Romania or Bulgaria, or the Baltic countries because they landfill a lot in these countries” she tells PRI. “They don’t have any incineration plants or recycling plants, so they need to find a solution for their waste”.

There’s definitely something to be said about being ‘green’. Regardless of its sourcing, hopefully Sweden’s impeccable job of reducing its carbon footprint may serve as an example to other areas of the world that have more than enough trash to utilize and put to sustainable use.

By: Amanda Froelich | TrueActivist


  1. Since when did burning trash become recycling? All we do is to burn trash at extreme tempratures, which minimizes pollution, but it still emits CO2. As a swede, I’m much more proud of the true recycling of paper, plastics, glass etc. we also have plants for creating CNG gas from organic waste. On a total though, we are nowhere near recycling 95% of our waste.

  2. Burning things instead of landfilling does not reduce one’s carbon footprint, contrary to the last paragraph’s assertion. And wouldn’t it be better if the Baltics started recycling? Creating demand for trash encourages more waste.

  3. A step in the right direction, for sure.

    1. running out of garbage because you burn it, is not in of itself testimony to a society that avoids GENERATING garbage;
    2. trucking all that garbage from as far away as the Baltics (pointed to as a “better” source by the Swedish EPA official) is hardly reducing the carbon footprint;
    3. It depends heavily on other countries NOT doing a good at sustainability;
    4. Incineration yields highly toxic leftovers – that get landfilled!!

    The opening line here – characterizing a world without pollution – is still way off the mark. Incineration generates plenty.

  4. Burning your trash is not the solution to pollution.. It’s the exact opposite actually. This article is short sighted and dumb

  5. @Ron

    What people have in their yards is not important. That’s up to each individual. The point of this article is about what the government does with their trash, it seems you might have missed that.

  6. Dear Sweden,

    The rest of the world is filling up with garbage, let them pay you to take it off your hands.

  7. They burn trash for their energy. That’s medieval, and far from the future. If we learned to reduce, reuse and recycle what was leftover, trash wouldn’t be as prevalent as it is.

  8. Interesting how Seeden manage to look green. The CO2 emissions are a bit better than EU but still far to much compared to acceptable levels. Five to ten times more depending on how you count, production or comsumtion

    • Yeah because they are burning other countries’ trash. It would be lower if they didn’t burn Norway’s right?

  9. I really do think this story is severly overdone and rosy.
    Maybe they do run out of garbage, but that is not because the Swedes recycle so meticulous.
    Much of the waste does not get thrown away, but gets thrown aside. Out here in the country many gardens around houses are littered with junk; seeing cars, caravans, furniture lying around and rotting away is not all that uncommon.
    Much of the householdwaste isn’t thrown away either, but burned at home, either in the stove, furnace or simply in the backyard. Anything that burns often is dealt with at home; packaging with or without plastics or aluminum liner, plastics.
    I am a non-Swede, but have lived here for more than 2 years now, not to mention the many visits i paid befor moving here. I very regularly visit peoples places both in the city and in the countryside and both professionally and privately. I see these things on an almost daily basis.
    For me this story simply isn’t true!
    It lacks nuance and/or serious research. Even feels a bit like propaganda.

    • What area in Sweden are you talking about?

      I’ve been living in both north and south of Sweden and most of the waste is recycled where i live.

      We burn some to, but its wood waste, stuff you cant throw in the bin.

    • I most come and visit your part of Sweden Ron. Sounds exotic. Gardens filled with cars and caravans…
      Yeah right :P

    • What are you even talking about? Where in Sweden do you live? Most people don’t have furnaces and those who do, (like my parents) certainly don’t burn their garbage. I have never heard of anyone doing that. Why would we when the garbageman arrives to the doorstep. The actual recycling varies offcourse, but most people at least separates the metal/glass from the burnable trash, and many go even further and recycles paper, plastic, cardboard and food in separate containers under the sink before transporting it to recycling centers.

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