'Recycle, Reuse, Reduce Waste'
Sweden, where most of household waste is recycled, may have lessons for India in environmental-friendly practices
While India's capital is on its 'waste high', clearly evident from the Ghazipur landfill trash mountains, we have countries like Sweden that are running out of garbage and asking their neighbours to send them theirs. How we wish we had such delightful neighbours! While it remains a distant dream for India to achieve 100 per cent waste management, the country tries to learn from best global practices. Weine Wiqvist, CEO of Avfall Sverige, Swedish Waste Management organisation, talked to BW Businessworld about their achievement and 'Zero Waste' goal.
How and why recycling is the most important part of waste management?
Recycling increases more rapidly than growth of waste. Sweden takes a top position when it comes to waste management. Adding energy and heat recovery to material recovery, more than 99 per cent of Swedish household waste is recycled.
As in most countries though, the economic growth has resulted in increased amount of waste. From 1995 until 2015 the amount of household waste per person increased by 24 per cent. In spite of this, Sweden will be compliant with several of the national environmental quality objectives due to its efficient waste management. Statistics show that recycling has increased more rapidly than the growth of waste.
What is the model of waste management in Sweden?
Ambitious objectives have been one road to success. By 2010, at least 50 per cent of all household waste was to be recycled as materials, including waste subjected to biological recycling and treatment. Last year, somewhat late, we achieved a material-recycling rate of 50.6 per cent.
In addition to that Sweden recovered energy from 48.6 per cent of the domestic residual waste as electricity, district heating, district cooling and steam. It provided heating to 950 000 households and the electricity production was equivalent to the requirements for 260,000 homes. The well-developed district heating system in connection with efficient waste-to-energy incineration plants give Sweden a unique advantage compared to many other countries.
Do you think this model can work for Indian urban landscape?
I don't see why not. But it takes time and effort. And communication! The government needs to put attention to waste management, both legislation and financing. You need to have or build an infrastructure to make use of the energy, from ex-residual waste and food waste. You need to build plants for incineration and anaerobic digestion, invest in systems for sorting and recycling. The easiest and the hardest part is probably working to reduce the amount of waste. The easiest because you don't need to invest in plants and such. The hardest because it is very hard to change people's consumption habits. But reducing the waste is what gives the greatest positive impact on the environment.
Sweden is soon going to run cars on food waste. How are you going to achieve this goal?
According to a national environmental objective, by 2018, 50 per cent of all food waste should be recovered by biological treatment so that nutrients are utilised - a tough but inspiring goal. In 2014, Sweden reached 38 per cent biological treatment of food waste, mainly through digestion.
Main part of the gas produced is used for vehicles. More than 50,000 Swedish cars, buses and trucks could be fuelled party with biogas from food waste - a really smart way to turn a problem into a solution. This also puts Sweden in a unique position using biogas to reduce fossil fuels.
Do you have specific technology to deal with e-waste?
Recycling of electric and electronic waste, WEEE, has turned into a success story. Each Swedish resident handed in average in 13.9 kg of WEEE in 2015. This is amongst the highest numbers in Europe.
Increased consumption of electronics is one reason why so much is collected. Flat screen televisions and computer monitors have been consumed en masse, leaving thousands and thousands of old ones behind. But the organisation behind WEEE recycling also contributes to the good result - local authorities and producers in cooperation.
Many of the metals recycled from electronic waste are scarce, which of course makes recycling even more important.
How will it help us deal with climate change?
By recycling and in other ways optimising our waste management we can not only save natural resources, it also helps restrain climate change. Between 1994 and 2014 climate changes due to the effects of waste treatment have decreased with about 60 per cent (Swedish EPA) in Sweden despite the fact that the quantity of waste has increased by almost the same percentage during this period.
With the moderate assumption that the heat and electricity production in waste-to-energy incineration plants replaces the equal amount of oil, the direct emissions of fossil carbon dioxide is avoided. If the alternative instead had been coal it would be much larger. If the credit gained by the avoided emissions of methane from landfills is added then in fact an efficient waste-to-energy plant is a carbon sink.
The increased recycling also results in lower emissions; compared to mined iron ore and aluminium, for example, recycled steel saves 85 per cent of the energy required to produce steel and recycled aluminium 95 per cent.
Biological treatment through digestion can even result in negative CO2-emission if manure is treated, which is often the case. And all biogas produced at Swedish bio waste digestion plants used as vehicle fuel, it replace approximately 125 million litres of petrol.
Why is Sweden so successful when it comes to recycling?
I would say there are several main reasons. One is the municipals' explicit responsibility for household waste, paper and packages excluded. This is the guarantee for a long-term commitment and high level of service to inhabitants all over the country.
The second one is the Swedish politics. The parliament has had the courage, and will, to make Sweden a forerunner in the environmental work. It has resulted in a clear and powerful national system with strong policies and incentives. One example is the early Swedish introduction of the landfill ban in 2002 for burnable waste and 2005 for biowaste.
Yet another reason for the Swedish success story is the Swedish themselves. Every Swedish toddler learns the importance of protecting the environment. Many day care centres have their own composting facilities - a perfect opportunity to learn the kids how potato peelings turns into dirt with the assistance of nice little worms and untiring microbes. Many see sorting and recycling waste as a way to make a difference, an effort for the environment.
Considering waste-to-energy incineration a recycling method, as today more than 99 per cent of the Swedish household waste is recycled or recovered. We believe the awareness of the new generation will make material-recycling increase even more in the years to come.
Avfall Sverige´s vision is 'There is no waste'. Could you elaborate on the same?
In spite of high class waste management, Sweden must reduce the amount of waste. This is the best way to preserve scarce resources. Therefore Avfall Sverige´s vision says: "There is no waste". Through communication campaigns and development projects we emphasise the importance of reducing and reusing. And we notice a change. Second hand has become cool among young people, sharing and renting instead of owning is considered handy and it saves you money as well as the environment.
We will of course never actually reach zero waste, i.e. no production of waste at all, but we see that many do realise the need to change your way of living so make sure that our great grandchildren will also be able to live good lives.
Facts: Swedish Waste Management
Avfall Sverige, Swedish Waste Management, is the Swedish interest organization for the waste management and recycling sector. The association has almost 400 members: chiefly local authorities, federations of local authorities, and municipal companies, but also businesses. The organization represents the municipal members visà-vis politicians, decision makers, authorities, and the EU.
o Population 9.8 million
o Household waste generation: 478 kg per inhabitant?
o Material recycling: 35 per cent
o Biological treatment: 16 per cent (25 plants for digesting food waste)
o Energy from waste: 49 per cent (33 plants for incineration of household waste)
Gains from recycling compared to producing from virgin material:
o 1 kg recycled newspapers save enough energy to keep a cell-phone conversation going for 4.5 months
o Recycle your bike and you will save carbon dioxide equivalent to a 120 kilometre drive in your car
o One recycled can saves energy enough for watching TV for 7 hours
o One bag of food waste will keep your car running for 2.5 kilometres
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