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Zero waste – it can be done: Sweden sets the tone

09.02.2015

A global population of nine billion by 2050. A demographic explosion that affects all of us and questions the sustainability of economic models that rely on raw materials and reserves that will inevitably run out.

An obvious solution will involve our capacity to evolve from a “society of waste” to one of recycling and re-use, in other words, a shift from a linear model to a circular model. From this perspective, the way we look at waste is changing: yesterday it was cumbersome debris, today it can generate value by giving materials a second life or becoming a source of energy.

©Pierre Emmanuel RASTOIN

In terms of a circular dynamic, Sweden is at the forefront. Since the 1970s, Sweden has been ahead of the game in recycling its waste. Sweden now claims to recycle 99% of its waste, half of it converted to electricity at incineration plants. Today, some 250,000 homes are powered from waste. Filters are used to keep emissions of toxic gas and ash into the atmosphere to a minimum during incineration.

But the incinerators are not operating to full capacity – the irony is that Sweden does not produce enough waste. The country has even agreed to import 800,000 tonnes of waste, mainly from Norway, in order to keep up its power production.