Sweden imports other countries' trash to convert into energy -- but how eco friendly is it?

Only 1 percent of Swedish waste ever makes it to the landfill, and other countries send millions of tons of their own trash there each year, where it's converted to heat and electricity. But the system may not be as eco-friendly as it seems.

Catherine Edwards
Catherine Edwards NewsMavens, Sweden
Sweden imports other countries' trash to convert into energy -- but how eco friendly is it? - NewsMavens
Sweden recycling sign, Wikimedia commons

Why this story matters:

It sounds like a utopian solution: Sweden's public transport runs on energy generated from composted food waste, while the rubbish imported from other countries helps provide heat and electricity for homes.

But there are two big problems with the scheme.

Firstly, the unsorted waste from overseas includes plastics, which can contain toxins that are released when burned. And secondly, does the easy option of incineration disincentivize the more eco-friendly options of reducing, reusing and recycling waste?

Details from the story:

  • In 2016, Sweden imported 1.3 million tons of waste from other EU countries
  • The free movement of goods and services within the EU also applies to trash
  • 12.5 percent of waste incinerated in Sweden is plastic
  • A tax on waste incineration in Sweden was scrapped in 2010
  • There are more than 30 so-called "heat-to-energy" plants in Sweden today

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