Landfill Eulogy

Sweden Dumps its Dumps

Yaniv Schwartz/

Landfills generate environmental problems such as the greenhouse gas methane that warms the atmosphere and toxic chemicals from household cleaning products that pollute soil and groundwater. Installations are smelly, noisy and can breed disease-transmitting vermin, as well as harm wildlife. Recycling helps cut the volume of waste, but the bulk of all trash continues to fill these dumps.

Sweden produces about the same amount of waste as other European nations, but less than 1 percent of its household refuse ends up in landfills. Thirty-two waste-to-energy (WTE) plants that have been operating across the country for years incinerate more than 2 million tons of trash annually—almost 50 percent of all waste.

The country still recycles, but anything else normally ends up in the WTE incinerators, creating steam to generate electricity distributed on the grid. This system heats close to a million homes and powers more than a quarter-million, thus reducing Sweden’s reliance on fossil fuels. Sweden also helps to clean up other countries in the European Union by importing their trash and burning it. Because specific products contain materials that cannot be recycled or incinerated, some landfills are still necessary.

This article appears in the November 2017 issue of Natural Awakenings.

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