From Waste to Energy: Sweden’s Innovative Waste Management System

We are quite familiar with the concept of generating energy from water or wind.  How about generating energy from garbage? It sounds interesting and promising, right? There are many ways of managing the waste wisely. Producing energy through garbage incineration is one of those which prove to be sustainable, safe and smart.

Sweden, over the past few decades has developed the method of energy production from the waste. With an annual generation of 463 kg of household waste per person, Sweden recycles and generates energy from 99 percent of its garbage. Let’s have a look at Sweden’s various waste management strategies.


 Gamla Stan, an oldest town of Stockholm in Sweden

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How the Waste Management Works

Sweden has implemented the basic strategy of segregating the waste (wet and dry) at source. This technique increases the amount of materials to be recycled and reused. Once the garbage is completely sorted, it can be then utilized for various energy generation and recycling purposes.

Volunteers in fluorescent jackets stand behind wheelie bins sorting waste at Glastonbury festival

Waste industry dividing the segregated garbage into hazardous and non-hazardous waste.

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 Waste Segregation: The Basic Step

How is the segregation process managed at different levels? There is a systematic plan of waste related responsibilities allotted to different sections of the society. Let’s have a look at this management system:

1. Municipality: Any type of waste from households, restaurants, shops, offices, etc. is to be collected by municipality. They also hold the responsibility to transport it to the treatment plants. Besides, every municipality has its own waste and sanitation ordinance consisting of various rules and regulations.

2. Households: Households follow the rules implemented by municipality. Their responsibility is to segregate their own garbage and deposit it at the available collection point.

3. Businesses and Other Waste Producers:The commercial industries related to the products like cars, electronics, pharmaceuticals, etc. are solely responsible for collecting and disposing off the waste that has been generated in the process. Additionally, they also have the responsibility to dispose of their end products in an appropriate way. This encourages the industries to produce more eco-friendly and recyclable materials which are economically viable.

Waste Treatment Methods

Depending on the type of waste and currently available technology, the treatment methods are divided into four categories:

1. Material Recycling

2. Biological Treatment

3. Energy Recovery

4. Landfill


Transporting compressed paper waste to the recycling units.

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The material recycling method puts the recyclable garbage again into use and reduces the cost of new production. The biological treatment includes the method of composting. The compost is used to increase the fertility of the soil.  Energy production from waste is one of the most important methods of garbage treatment in Sweden. Over 52 percent of the total waste is used for energy generation. Only 1 percent of the waste goes to landfill which is not recyclable or which can be stored for a longer period of time.

Waste as a resource

Most of the household waste in Sweden is burnt and then transformed into an energy resource. Over 2,70,000 tons of household waste from Sweden is utilized for generation of energy.


A typical waste to energy generation plant in Sweden

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The first incineration plant was set up at Stockholm in 1904. Currently, there are 32 incineration plants in Sweden. They produce heat for 8, 10,000 households and electricity for 2,50,000 private houses. Since 1970, Sweden has been successful in saving the fuels and has reduced the carbon emission by 90 percent. The annual generation of energy from waste in Sweden is equal to 1.1 million cubic meters of oil. This reduces carbon emission by 2.2 million tons per year which is identical to the emission of 6,80,000 petrol-powered cars.

What we need to learn from Sweden

By generating energy from garbage incineration, Sweden has proved that waste is a much more than a recyclable material. This approach is a testimony to the innovative and evolving face of waste management industries. Sweden started its journey towards zero garbage with the method of segregating the garbage at source and now, they are progressing towards a sustainable future.  We too can progress towards a clean and a healthy future! Let’s join our hands together and let’s take the necessary steps!

-Filed by Omkar Nikam



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