Less than one percent of Sweden's household waste winds up in a landfill. Where does the rest go? Roughly half the nation's waste is recycled, but what's more interesting and lucrative for the nation is what happens with the other half. Of the 4.4 million tons of household waste the nation produces each year, 2.2 million tons are converted into energy through an incineration process called waste-to-energy, or WTE.
Before the process begins, the waste is separated. Metals, light bulbs, batteries, hazardous wastes, along with recyclable materials like newspaper, are divided, some going into recycling, others into an incinerator, and a small subset into a landfill.
The official Sweden Vimeo account has published a video promoting its waste management abilities. The nation imports waste from other countries, nearly 800,000 tons of it a year. Waste-to-energy incinerators have been more controversial in the United States. Swedish Waste Management Anna-Carin Gripwall makes a lesser of two evils argument. "When waste sits in landfills," says Gripwall, "leaking methane gas and other greenhouse gasses, it is obviously not good for the environment. Waste to energy is a smart alternative, with less environmental impact, taking into account both by-products of incineration and emissions from transport. Plus, recovering energy from waste exploits a resource that would otherwise be wasted."