Importing trash?

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Thursday, August 14, 2014


NOBODY wants garbage in their backyard. In fact there is a term for this - NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard). And it not just among neighbors. Between countries too, garbage dumping is a big no. Only a few months ago, the Philippines protested the dumping of several containers of garbage from Canada. The trash was labeled recyclable plastics.

It may seem strange therefore that there’s a country in Europe that wants the garbage of its neighbors. That country is Sweden, a place known for its good environmental performance. The country has run out of waste that it volunteered to get its neighbor’s rubbish. The garbage is needed to keep their waste-to-energy plants running.

A big bulk of the waste that Sweden imports is from neighboring Norway. It's a win-win solution for the two countries. Norway pays Sweden to haul their garbage and Sweden gets its raw material for its power plants. The ash from the incinerators is returned to Norway for final disposal.

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According to Avfall Sverige, the Swedish Waste Management and Recycling Association, over two million tons of household waste is treated by waste-to-energy plants in Sweden every year. Waste incineration provides heat corresponding to the needs of 810,000 homes. It also provides electricity corresponding to the needs of almost 250,000 homes.

Waste incineration in Sweden produced as much energy in 2007 as 1.1 million m³ of oil, which reduces Carbon Dioxide emissions by 2.2 million tons per year. That’s equivalent to the emissions of 680,000 petrol-powered cars in a year. International comparisons show that Sweden is the global leader in recovering the energy in waste.

The biggest issue against incinerators is the emission. How does Sweden address this? Avfall Sverige says that strict regulations on waste sorting and advancement in emission treatment technology are the key. The incinerator plants carry out quality checks of the incoming waste in order to ensure that unsuitable material has not been sent for incineration.

Avfall Sverige further claims that Sweden has had strict standards limiting emissions from waste incineration since the mid-1980s. Most emissions have fallen by between 90 and 99 per cent since then due to ongoing technical development and better waste sorting. The EU’s directive on waste incineration was introduced in Sweden in 2002. The aim of the directive is to prevent or limit the negative impact on the environment from waste incineration, specifically from pollution due to emissions into the air, ground or water.

Not everyone of is happy. Environmentalists are not in favor of incineration as a means to dispose waste. They claim that incineration discourages recycling. A big portion of the waste stream is recyclable and if householders think that their waste is going to be burned anyway they will not spend time segregating it.

At present, there is a growing trend in most European countries to move away from using landfill sites and therefore the prospect of turning waste into energy is a very attractive one in this part of the world.

Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on August 15, 2014.

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