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News Article

Sweden as an Example of a Waste Management Strategy

Wed, 02/19/2014 - 09:25

The amount of waste generated by population and industries is one of the main sustainability concerns of many countries. Waste management policies have proven to be more successful in some countries than others, where governments have stepped up to the growing challenge of land pollution. Sweden has become an example for other countries due to its highly efficient Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) management strategy. In fact, the waste management system in Sweden is so efficient that the country is now importing waste from Norway in order to keep its waste-to-energy plants running. In order to be able to promote the creation of an efficient waste management strategy for Mexico, the example of Sweden can be taken into account to learn from its experience.

Historically, Sweden has been very committed to the protection of the environment through initiatives and policies. In 1969, the country established the Environment Protection Act that increased the reach of environmental obligation for waste treatment facilities. Municipalities started being responsible for the collection of waste with the collection of hazardous waste further improving in the 1980s. In the 1990s, regulations came into force to increase the importance of producer responsibility and to concentrate efforts to reduce the amount of waste going to landfills. Also, the Environmental Code of 1999 integrated 15 existing environmental laws to create complete legislation promoting the sustainable development of Sweden. A Strategy for Sustainable Waste Management was passed in 2005 and set targets for 2010, giving municipalities the responsibility to collect and dispose of household waste and as well as the right to issue local regulations to comply with their obligations. On the other hand, households are obligated to separate and deposit waste at the available collection points set by municipalities. In addition, producers are responsible for the disposal of products that are no longer useful such as packaging, cars, recycled paper, batteries, and electronic equipment.

The generation of MSW increased steadily from 2001 to 2008, before dropping from 516kg to 465kg per capita in 2010, possibly because of the economic slowdown. The main waste management alternatives in Sweden are incineration and recycling. Through these different policies and incentives, the amount of waste that ended up in landfills was reduced from 22% of MSW in 2001 to 1% in 2010, with only 42,000 tonnes deposited in 2010 compared to 880,000 tonnes in 2001. Although recycling rates have stagnated at 49% over the last five years in Sweden, this ratio is expected to increase to 62% by 2020. The Swedish government has also largely banned the use of combustible waste and organic waste on landfills, which must now be used only when it is absolutely necessary for waste that cannot be treated otherwise. Nevertheless, if a certain region lacks the capacity to manage waste to these standards, it may be granted an exemption from the landfill ban.

Another important incentive that motivated the growth of recycling in Sweden was the landfill tax introduced in 2000. The level of tax increased annually until 2006 and is paid by the owner of the landfill on the basis of weight of waste. This tax motivated the use of the incineration potential that waste represents, while recycling was another option to manage waste instead of paying the landfill tax, increasing the proportion of recycled waste from 39% to 49%. Better MSW management has important environmental benefits since greenhouse emissions are avoided, although the emissions generated by each waste management option need to be considered to determine the net benefits of an efficient waste management system. In order to achieve these advances in waste management, Sweden has focused on four different areas of action that Mexico could implement as well. First, regulations must be put in place, the created instruments must be used and progress must be monitored to ensure that the desired effects are achieved. Second, a great emphasis is needed on reducing the quantity of waste and the hazards that result from this. Third, knowledge must be improved about pollutants and hazardous substances. Finally, mechanisms that facilitate the sorting of waste within households are essential to achieve real progress and to increase public participation in the waste management process.

A successful waste-to-energy strategy for Mexico could make an important contribution to meeting the country’s increasing energy needs as well. Considering that Mexico generates over 41 million tonnes of solid waste per year, there is a high potential to greatly improve the waste management system and find many different uses for the waste. This matter should become a priority for the country since it would help to face important environmental and health challenges as the nation develops. There are many opportunities in the field of waste management in Mexico, and just like Sweden, important progress can be achieved by coordinating regulations, public policies, governmental entities, the private sector and, perhaps most importantly, Mexican households