I recently worked in a building where there were no trash cans beneath the desks and cubicles in the office—just recycle bins. Though I found it somewhat cumbersome to schlep my non-recyclable trash across the floor to a designated bin, I was more cognizant of how much of my waste was delegated to a landfill.
Companies everywhere are upping the ante when it comes to waste management. On a larger scale, some countries are leading the pack in sorting trash and putting it to good use; Sweden, a country known for churning out such glorious things as meatballs, Absolut vodka, Ikea and ABBA is now a trailblazer in smart waste management.
Sweden is so great at waste management that only 4 percent of its garbage ends up in a landfill, according to Swedish Waste Management:
Waste incineration [in Sweden] provides heat corresponding to the needs of 810,000 homes, around 20 percent of all the district-heating produced. It also provides electricity corresponding to the needs of almost 250,000 homes.
Because Sweden is so efficient at reducing waste and relies so heavily on converting waste to renewable energy, the country has recently begun importing around 800,000 tons of trash annually from other countries; one of those countries is Norway. In the arrangement, Norway pays Sweden to take the waste and Sweden uses the trash to generate electricity and heat. However, dioxins in the ashes of the waste byproduct are an environmental pollutant. Those ashes also contain heavy metals that need to be landfilled, and are exported back to Norway. Though Sweden gets to keep the trash and export the ashes, Norway still benefits because burning waste is more expensive for the country than just exporting the garbage.
Other nations should look to Sweden as a model of waste management done right. In a nation like the U.S., 2008 metrics show that the average amount of waste generated by each person in America per day was 4.5 pounds. In total, 24.3 percent of waste was recycled, 8.9 percent was composted, and 66.8 percent was sent to a landfill or incinerated. Clearly, there is room for improvement. The U.S. should start with a focus on composting, recycling and reusing in order to bring down the percentage of trash that is sent to a landfill each year. By wasting less, perhaps one day the U.S. can learn what it’s like to have a trash shortage. In the end, ABBA was right: the winner takes it all.