Sweden`s Waste Policy: Landfilling of Waste Has Decreased Sharply

In a new report, Sweden’s Sixth National Communication to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a comprehensive summary of Sweden’s efforts to combat climate change is provided in accordance with the guidelines adopted by the parties to the UNFCCC. The report also presents some key figures of waste management in Sweden.

Approximately 118 million tonnes (Mt) of waste was generated in Sweden in 2010 (Swedish Environmental Protection Agency 2012). The categories with the largest volumes were mining and mineral waste (89 Mt), soils and dredging spoils (8 Mt), metallic waste (2.5 Mt), wood waste (2.0 Mt), combustion waste, i.e. Ashes (1.5 Mt) and paper and cardboard waste (just under 1.5 Mt). Accordingly, 76 per cent of this waste was generated in the mining and quarrying industry. The aggregate volume is affected by economic trends and fluctuations. Larger quantities of waste mean that a growing amount requires management. However, since the material and energy content of waste are used to a higher degree and the technology of waste management has improved, the overall environmental impact of waste management has nonetheless decreased.

Owing to Sweden’s new policy objectives and associated instruments, landfilling of waste has decreased sharply in the past decade to just under one per cent of household waste today (in 2001 the proportion was 21 %) . The remainder is sent for materials recovery, incinerated with energy recovery or treated biologically (composted or digested). If industrial and operational waste (not mining waste) are included, 43 per cent goes to materials recovery, 28 per cent is incinerated with energy recovery and 13 per cent goes to landfill. Materials recovery includes various categories of material, such as metal, paper, plastic and glass, and also use of waste for construction purposes.

An upward trend is evident

The quantity of household waste treated in Sweden has increased to just over 4.3 million tonnes, according to Swedish Waste Management (2012). Since 2001, there has been an eleven per cent increase in volume. In terms of household waste per capita in the years 2001 to 2011, an upward trend is evident up to 2007, when the figure per capita was 493 kiligramme, followed by a three-year downward trend. This was reversed in 2011, when the average inhabitant generated 459 kilogramme of household waste, and it is likely that this reversal mainly reflected the improvement in economic trends that year.

Materials recovery from household waste has increased by 13 per cent since 2001. In 2011, materials were recovered from 1.4 million tonnes (33 %) of household waste, of which just under 1.1 million tonnes consisted of packaging and recyclable paper (newspapers). Biological treatment of waste, except for wastewater sludge, is increasing and takes place at 26 composting facilities and 21 mixed-waste digestion plants. The latter received food and slaughter waste, in particular, and produce most biogas after sewage treatment plants. Smaller quantities of food waste are also received for digestion at sewage treatment plants. In digestion, both biogas and biofertiliser are obtained.

Demand for renewable transport fuels

The biogas is used mainly as a vehicle fuel, since there is a growing demand for renewable transport fuels and, moreover, using it in this way affords the greatest environmental benefit. Of the volume of biofertiliser produced, amounting to 594,000 tonnes, more than 90 per cent was returned to farmland in 2011.

In 2011 there were 30 incineration plants for household waste outside industry. These plants produce both district heating and electricity. Half of the heating requirement in Sweden’s building stock is met by district heating, and in 2011 waste incineration accounted for 9,600 Gigawatt per hour (18 %) of the total heat energy supplied and a further 3,665 Gigawatt per hour of electric energy supplied.

Recovery of methane gas takes place from 46 active and eleven disused landfills. In 2011, 270 Gigawatt per hour of landfill gas (18 % of total biogas energy) was collected and used mainly for heating, but also for electricity production and as a vehicle fuel. Some landfill gas is flared to further reduce emissions of methane, a considerably stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Reduced landfilling of waste and improved collection of landfill gas are factors that have contributed to a fall in greenhouse gas emissions from the waste sector. Increased materials recovery generally means that both energy and materials are saved at the production stage, and this helps to reduce emissions further. In addition, waste incineration with energy recovery results in a reduction in the use of fossil fuels in the electricity and heating sectors.

Source: Sweden’s Sixth National Communication on Climate Change

Foto: J. Szasz