Energy Environment Europe Technology

Muck is money

Nicholas Newman Eniday April 2016
Family waste sorting

Re-processing and trading waste is a valued business in mainland Europe. As Anna-Carin Gripwell, Swedish Director of Waste Management Communications, explains, “waste today is a commodity in a different way than it has been. It is not only waste, it’s a business.” All kinds of waste is traded for profit. For instance, plastic waste containing (laundry detergent and shampoo bottles) can earn a processor a profit of $250 per metric ton, while processing used aluminum generates profits of around $1,325 per metric ton. In Europe, Sweden leads the way in re-processing and recycling…

Half of Sweden’s 4.4 million metric tons of household waste is converted into energy by 32 waste-to-energy incineration plants. Almost all the remainder is recycled, leaving just 1 percent to be sent to landfill sites where the resultant methane emissions can be used as a fuel to generate electricity. The Swedish west coast city of Gothenburg provides a mini-case study of what can be achieved from waste. This city of one million people is home to a 3 MWH waste-to-power plant operated by Renova AB at Sävenäs. The plant receives around 300 waste truck deliveries a day which is enough to provide 30 percent of district heating in the region’s network and 5 percent of the electricity needs of Gothenburg’s population.

Since 2008, Sweden has become so experienced at recycling and reprocessing waste that, in order to keep its many waste-to-power plants fully employed, it has imported around 1.5 million metric tons of waste a year from Norway, Britain, Ireland and Italy. The trouble is, as Patrik Zapata at Gothenburg University asks, “if Sweden is so good at taking care of other countries waste, how will these countries be encouraged to start taking care of their own waste? Or rather, prevent their own waste from being produced?”Read More

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