While America contributes to 30% of the world’s waste, Sweden is a recycling leader with an astonishing 99% recycling rate in 2014. Sweden’s recycling rate is up from just two years ago when they accomplished an already highly successful 96% recycling rate. This “Recycling Revolution” happening in Sweden has gotten them closer to “zero waste” than any country has before.
Sweden is Importing Garbage from Other Countries
Anna-Caran Gripwall, Director of Comms at Swedish Waste Management explains in the video, Importing garbage is good business for Sweden (Watch it here), “Swedes produce a fair amount of waste, approximately 460 kilos per person a year, which amounts to about 4.4 million tons every year. Less than 1% goes to the landfill and the rest is about 50/50 recycled and energy recovery.”
Sweden’s Waste Management & Recycling Priorities:
- Prevention (Reduce – Live Simply)
- Reuse (Re-purpose, Upcycle)
- Recycle (Often Pre-Sorted by Homes and Businesses)
- Recycling Alternatives (Waste-to-Energy Incinerators)
- Lastly, Landfill (Less than 1% of remaining trash make it to the landfill)
Highlights of Sweden’s Waste Management & Recycling Program:
- In Sweden, trash and recyclables are often sorted by home and business owners before going to a recycling or waste management facility (i.e. households seperate organic waste, newspapers, plastic, metal, glass, light bulbs, etc. while reusable items are left out of trash).
- Sweden has recycling stations all over the country (as a rule, no more than 300 meters from any residential area)
- Sweden uses recycling alternatives, such as burning their garbage for energy recovery (and even imports garbage from the UK, Italy, Norway, and Ireland). Their 32 waste-to-energy (WTE) plants are a controversial topic in the US, but not in Sweden. WTE plants load furnaces with garbage, which generates steam, this spins generator turbines to produce electricity for their country.
- Companies are joining the effort with unique recycling programs in Sweden (such as H&M’s Garment Collecting). Swedish laws make producers responsible for costs related to recycling or disposing of their products. For instance, a bottling company who sells plastic bottles of pop in stores has to pay for bottle collections and recycling/disposal costs. The bottle bill in Sweden has incentivized some companies to be proactive.
- Sending trash to the landfill is a last resort in Sweden. The people in the country understand sustainable living can simply mean – less is more!
America is starting to get some of their reduce, reuse, and recycling habits formed, but there is a still a long way to go. For instance, while Swedes are are using reusable containers and reusable bags, the US goes through 100 billion single-use plastic bags in a single year. Progress is being made though, as counties and states band the plastic bags. Hawaii, and recently California, have banned plastic bags – each which can take up to 1000 years to totally disintegrate!