Towards Zero Waste- The Swedish Revolution


With the world’s major countries like USA, China, and India facing a garbage problem – a small country in Northern Europe seems to stand steps beyond in garbage recycling. Sweden, the land of ABBA and absolute Vodka presents a splendid model of how to manage waste. With only four percent of the nation’s waste ending up in landfills, it presents a stark contrast to the US, where half of all waste ends up in landfills. In 2010, a whopping 136 million tons of garbage ended up in landfills. Condition of waste management deteriorates as we move to Asia. India tops the list with nearly 95 percent of the waste ending in landfills while even advanced economies like China end up tossing nearly 85 percent of the total waste generated in the landfills.

Most of the nations like USA, China and India now seek solace from garbage in form of landfills, but landfills have their own share of drawbacks. They often pollute the air, water and soil around them. Methane and Hydrogen Sulfide are released unto the extent of dangerous amounts. More than 5 percent of methane in the environment makes it highly susceptible to fire. Landfill neighbours experience eye irritation, headaches, nausea and respiratory problems due to hydrogen Sulfide. With the enormous amount of waste produced every day, there will come a day when there won’t be any land left for landfills.

The Swedes take recycling so seriously that the country has now come to recycle 96 percent of its waste, a substantial increase from 38 percent in 1975. Believe it or not, there’s a recycling station less than a mile away from every residential area. What a great way to ensure regular recycling of waste!

Here are ten lessons one must learn from the Swedes and their government to recycle and manage waste properly.

Leftover Medicine: The Swedes give away their leftover medication to the pharmacists instead of tossing the bottles into trash or leaving them in the cabinets. In the year 2013, 43 percent of the Swedes sent 378 tons of collected waste for safe combustion to a major pharmacy outlet. It is actually hard to imagine that the tiny pills we consume can make such a huge impact on the environment. 

Discounts for Used Clothing: The Swedish megabrand H&M, the second largest clothing retailer in the world only after ZARA and ahead of The GAP, launched a global campaign in 2013 that enables people swap used clothes with considerable discount on fresh ones. For every bag full of worn clothes, 12 percent of discount was given on new purchases. The worn out clothes are used by the company to make eco-friendly clothing collections.  

Burgers for Empty Beer Bottles: Getting a Big Mac for 40 trash cans at McDonalds seems a great deal. Why not! McDonalds accepts empty beer and soda bottles in exchange for it’s food. With an average Swede returning with 146 cans and bottles per deposit, McDonalds provides a hamburger or cheeseburger for every 10 cans. Food for trash is definitely a deal tempting enough to raise the enthusiasm for recycling waste.

Begin At Home: The theory of sorting out garbage at home is just not a theory. Newspaper, plastic, metal, glass, lightbulbs, batteries, waste from the kitchen are sorted right where they are produced. Larger items such as furniture or electronics are dealt with at special recycling centers outside cities. Newspapers are turned into paper mass, bottles are reused or melted into new items, plastic containers become plastic raw material; food is composted and becomes soil or biogas.

Vehicles on Green Energy: Eco – fueled garbage trucks were first launched in 2010 and run on biodiesel and biogas. They produce less noise and less emissions as compared to the routine vehicles. “Early developmental work with our garbage trucks showed that noise reduction increased safety because the driver can quickly draw attention to passing traffic,” says a vehicle development manager.

Apart from these measures, some innovative and attention seeking concepts have been applied. In Helsinborg, a town in Sweden has public waste bins that have speakers in them. These speakers play music to make recycling a more pleasant experience. Popular artists and bands in Sweden do write about love and rebel, but they don’t forget to write on recycling. One of the most popular being “Panta Mera”, which means recycle more, requesting people to return bottles to the stores via videos.

The European nation which has a population of more that 9.5 million has totally eliminated garbage. The landfills have turned dry, and no garbage heaps can be found anywhere. Biomass is mainly used to produce heat for district heating and central heating and industry processes. Sweden has succeeded at the zero-waste mission so much so that it is also importing approximately 800,000 tonnes of garbage per year from countries like U.K., Italy, Norway, and Ireland to generate electricity through a longstanding waste-to-energy incineration program. Oslo, a recycling-friendly place where roughly half the city and most of its schools are heated by burning garbage — household trash, industrial waste, even toxic and dangerous waste from hospitals and drug arrests. 

Sweden is one of the most incredible destinations when it comes to environment. It has received various praises for protecting it’s forest cover as the world faces a serious deforestation related crisis. Be it the recycling of the garbage produced, or the use of eco friendly products, the country has emerged to be a symbol of environment conservation efforts across the globe. All of this has been made possible through the coordinated work of the government, the private sector, and all the citizens. As the environment begs not to be clogged and choked to death by the massive waste production in most parts of the world, Sweden leads by example. Citizens sort things, the government brings in policies that reflect it’s concern not only about recycling waste, but also about how to generate the best out of waste. In these dreaded times the need of the hour is that all the countries across the globe follow the example of this Scandinavian country and emerge winners in the battle of Waste Production and Management. 

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