Sweden runs out of rubbish and has to import it instead

power station

Although Sweden is often known for its quirky IKEA furniture, a lesser known fact concerns a rather odd problem the country has faced recently - It's run out of trash.

The woefully high levels of waste we in the UK send to landfill puts us to shame compared to the Swedes; only 1% of their waste is sent to landfill whereas in the UK, the figure is somewhere in the region of 45%.

We can't be entirely certain of the exact figure as, unlike Sweden, the UK doesn't have a coherent nationwide policy when it comes to recycling.

Each local authority is left to their own devices as to what their recycling policy is.


For example, if you've just decorated your home and have leftover tins of paint, you might think that you can simply plonk them in your car boot and trundle of to your local tip for disposal. Not so in some areas. On arrival at the tip, it's quite possible that you'll be greeted with something along the lines of "Sorry, you can't dump that in here". If you live in a different area however, they may well receive it with open arms.

This confusing and counterproductive approach is mirrored across England but in Sweden, it's rather different. The country relies on burning much of its waste to provide heat and light to hundreds of thousands of homes across the country. So much so, it's run out of stuff to burn.

This landfill drought has led Sweden to find alternative sources of rubbish to throw in their power hungry incinerators and two of the main suppliers of waste are neighbouring Norway and (yes, you guessed it), the UK. We actually pay Sweden to take our waste, which they then convert into fuel.

It seems like a pretty sweet deal for the Swedes but they're still looking to get better quality rubbish from other countries that have less evolved recycling schemes in place. Catarina Ostlund, an advisor for the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency has been quoted as saying:

"I hope that we instead will get the waste from Italy or from Romania or Bulgaria or the Baltic countries because they landfill a lot in these countries. They don’t have any incineration plants or recycling plants, so they need to find a solution for their waste".

It would be nice to think that at some stage, more or all countries around the world take the problem of their waste a bit more seriously. If they did though, this would cause an obvious problem for Sweden... they'd run out of external supplies of rubbish to convert into energy.

To counter this possible scenario, the forward thinking Swedes have already factored this into their waste equation and have biofuels on hand to take up the slack.

It would seem that we still have more to learn from Sweden, other than how to assemble flat-packed furniture.

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