Waste Wanted

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Sweden, population 9.7 million and slightly larger than California, has a program of generating energy from garbage that is wildly successful, but recently its success has also generated a surprising issue: there is not enough trash.  Due to its efficiency in converting waste to renewable energy, Sweden started importing around 800,000 tons of trash annually from other countries.

Only 4 percent of Swedish garbage ends up in a landfill, according to Swedish Waste Management. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency states 250 million tons of trash was generated in 2010, but only about 34 percent was recycled.  (I wonder what the statistic is for 2014!)

Swedish trash incineration plants approach or exceed 90% efficiency. Most power plants only achieve 15-25% efficiency.  90% of garbage is available as energy! The efficiency is possible because they generate electricity by burning the trash, they use the heat to heat water, the hot water is piped to communities, a heat exchange system transfers the heat to a self-enclosed local system which sends the heated water to radiators and faucets in homes and businesses. Efficient, well designed, reliable, engineering.

Called District Heating Systems, its less expensive than heating by electricity and oil.  A typical Swedish city of 110,000 with the system installed over the last 30-40 years has nearly 100% coverage.

The technology is not new. Countries that have no landfill space and no deep supply of fossil fuels place a priority on recovering valuable resources. In the US, waste-to-energy facilities are not popular because of the air born pollutants that are a byproduct of burning, the truck traffic to transfer the garbage, the unsightliness of the facility not wanted near where we live and the potential to reduce recycling incentives.  Yet! Sweden has the 5th cleanest air quality (US rates 12th) and the 3rd cleanest water (US rates 39th) and the priority placed on aesthetics can be witnessed by the design of the above plant.  Even the lights change position and color to inform the community of the stages occurring in the process!  Byproducts such as bottom ash, are sorted for metals and recycled as fill for road construction and fly ash, which is toxic, is deposited in a landfill certified to handle hazardous materials. Air emissions are cleaned through a series of scrubbers and filters that exceed environmental standards.  “The same manufacturers are supplying both continents. This means that the emission levels are comparable,” said Matt Kasper, a special assistant for energy policy at the Center for American Progress.  In addition, Kasper reports, “Waste-to-energy and recycling are compatible with one another. Countries in Europe that utilize waste-to-energy have some of the world’s highest recycling rates.”

Sweden recognized and confronted the rapid national and international loss of natural resources and took a lead in organising the first UN conference on the environment, held in Stockholm in 1972.

Sweden’s proactive environmental policies have led to a reduction in acidification and eutrophication (excessive richness of nutrients in a body of water, frequently due to runoff from the land, which causes a dense growth of plant life and death of animal life from lack of oxygen).  Held up as a role model in water management; Sweden’s tap water is drinkable and you can safely swim in central parts of the capital, Stockholm.

At present, Sweden has the highest percentage of renewable energy in the EU (over 47 per cent). By 2020, the Government says its within reach of making half of the country’s energy renewable.

Although Sweden is a frontrunner in environmental policy, it recognizes that there is plenty of room to improve for the benefit of future generations.  Sweden’s environment policy is based on 16 environmental quality objectives:

  • Reduced climate impact
  • Clean air
  • Natural acidification only
  • A non-toxic environment
  • A protective ozone layer
  • A safe radiation environment
  • Zero eutrophication
  • Flourishing lakes and streams
  • Good-quality groundwater
  • A balanced marine environment, flourishing coastal areas and archipelagoes
  • Thriving wetlands
  • Sustainable forests
  • A varied agricultural landscape
  • A magnificent mountain landscape

Its incineration plants offer a look into the future where countries could potentially make money off of their trash. Environmental technology is a growing economic sector in Sweden, with some 3,500 companies in the field. Sweden’s main strength lies in producing systemic solutions resource management, waste management and renewable energy.

Leave it to the Scandinavians to make even trash chic.

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Does it look so bad?

How You Can Help:

  • Vote on November 4th for politicians who support renewable energy policy. The growing political clout of renewable energy interests is challenging the huge financial backings from powerful groups such as Americans for Prosperity, i.e. Koch Industries.  Measures have been introduced in about 18 states to expand the battle over fossil fuel and renewable energy to the state level. The new rules would require utilities to use solar and wind energy, as well as proposed Environmental Protection Agency rules that would reduce carbon emissions from power plants.
  • Learn more about local improvements and initiatives. http://www.alternative-energy-news.info/technology/politics/
  • Green Mountain Power can be a great alternative to Con Edison to receive your power from solar and wind. http://www.greenmountainpower.com/smart/

Until next week!

Garbage Girl

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