Sweden’s war on waste

When it comes to recycling, Sweden is ahead of the game – more than 99% of household waste generated in Sweden is recycled1.  Indeed, the culture of recycling is so ingrained in Swedish day-to-day life, with convenient recycling stations situated no more than 300m from any residential area, that in 2015 Sweden had to import more than 1.3 million tonnes of additional waste to feed its energy recovery centres and generate electricity.

Avfall Sverige, the Swedish Waste Management and Recycling Association, state that nearly 2.3 million tonnes of household waste went to energy recovery (generating energy through the burning of waste) in 2016 – an activity that Sweden has worked hard to excel at, currently generating around 3MWh per tonne of waste (the highest level in Europe).2

So how is waste converted into electricity? ‘Refused Derived Fuel’ (or RDF) involves the conversion of non-recyclable plastics, paper, cardboard, and other combustible materials into energy.  The waste is sorted, screened, shredded, dried, baled and then finally burned to produce electricity.  For more information on Refuse Derived Fuel, take a look at our recent blog by clicking here

Although some people are concerned about the environmental impact of burning waste, Sweden have managed to reduce heavy metal emissions from the process by 99% since 1985, despite the amount of waste being incinerated trebling3.  This has been achieved through greater filtration4 of any emissions, and the responsible disposal of any residual material left (or created) as a result of this process. The use of RDF as an energy source also means that fewer fossil fuels are required to generate power, ensuring a more sustainable future for us all.

However, as the rest of Europe catch up with Sweden’s ‘head start’ on recycling and energy recovery, how will Sweden fuel its Energy Recovery centres without importing waste from the rest of the continent? This already seems to be something that the recycling and energy-savvy country has considered, with one government representative advising that they will ‘move on to biofuels’ as an energy source when they can no longer meet the demands for energy with with waste5.


1 https://sweden.se/nature/the-swedish-recycling-revolution/
2 http://www.avfallsverige.se/avfallshantering/energiaatervinning/
3 https://sweden.se/nature/the-swedish-recycling-revolution/
4 https://www.nap.edu/read/5803/chapter/5#43
5 http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/sweden-s-recycling-is-so-revolutionary-the-country-has-run-out-of-rubbish-a7462976.html


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