Waste Elimination: Sweden vs. The United States

by Global Trash Solutions

While trash disposal may seem like a dirty business, Sweden sees it as one of the “cleanest.” In Sweden, waste-to-energy incinerators are used to burn trash and convert the “waste” into energy. Since 2002, the country has adopted a ban on putting biodegradable waste in landfills. This has resulted in a number of waste-to-energy plants appearing across the country. Burning waste has become so popular in Sweden that some 700,000 tons of garbage a year has been imported to help produce energy and heating for many of its cities.

How Does It Work?

While waste-to-energy incinerators are popular in Sweden, they have remained a controversial topic among American environmentalists. There is much debate over waste burning in the US, as many fear that it will slow recycling rates and increase air pollution. However, research in Sweden has shown that these issues have not turned out to be issues at all. In fact, only 1 percent of Sweden’s waste ends up in landfills, while half of it is recycled, and the remaining 49 percent is burned in waste-to-energy facilities. In fact, Sweden’s recycling rate is double that of the United States’.

During the burning process, steam is created which turns a turbine and produces up to 18 megawatts of electricity. Byproducts, like bottom ash, is sorted for metals and recycled as fill for construction projects, like roads. Air emissions are cleaned through a series of filters and come out below the permitted pollution level. Many experts claim that waste-to-energy plants are the cleanest and most efficient of its kind in the country. In addition, it is compatible with other forms of waste disposal, like recycling.

So what’s the real reason Americans have not been quick to adopt this form of waste elimination? It likely has to do with money. There are many cheaper forms of energy and cheaper ways to dispose of waste in the U.S. While the U.S. sits on a wealth of fossil fuels and has wide open spaces for landfills, Sweden is a much smaller country and does not.

Should America Burn Its Waste?

According to Edward Humes, author of Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash, North America has over 3,500 landfills, a solution that is not sustainable considering the average American throws away more than seven pounds of garbage a day. While our landfills grow, the debate continues to rage about finding a more sustainable solution. Currently, 77 waste-to-energy plants operate in 29 states, burning about 12 percent of the U.S.A.’s trash per year. However, due to high operating costs, regulation hurdles, and resistance, the last plant to be built in the U.S.A. was in Palm Beach County, FL. Many argue that North America should take a similar approach to Denmark, which opts for small-scale plants that contribute to a sense of neighborhood pride. Though these plants do contribute to CO2 emissions, eco-friendly Copenhagen’s plant releases an awareness-raising steam ring for every ton burned. This encourages people to recycle so fewer rings are released. Perhaps more communities in the U.S.A. could take this approach.

Global Trash Solution and Environmental Stewardship

Global Trash Solutions (GTS) has established a company goal of reaching “zero waste” emission. We not only reduce, reuse, and eliminate waste at our corporate office, but we also encourage our customers to do the same. We help them make a more positive impact on the environment by analyzing their waste processes, determining what can be eliminated, and helping them find better alternatives. Our waste management experts help clients find the right equipment for waste reduction and elimination. If you are interested in these types of services, please contact a knowledgeable representative at GTS today.

Sweden vs United States flags

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