That appears to be the issue that is plaguing Sweden recently. The country over the past decade or so has become so efficient in their design of waste incineration that they no longer receive enough trash from its citizens.
Normally for countries this would not even be a thought on people’s mind. Leaders would simply say “onto the next issue”. The problem that Sweden has with this is that they RELY on that trash to run their country. About twenty percent of Sweden’s heating is provided by the burning of garbage. The energy is then used to heat water which is in turn pumped through pipes to heat homes and commercial businesses. In addition to this the system also provides electricity to a quarter million homes. To add insult to the injuries of other countries, Sweden only sends about four percent of household waste to landfills. The rest is either recycled or used as fuel in waste to energy power plants. For Sweden this has become such a “problem” that they have began to import trash from other European countries in order to keep up with demand. Countries such as Norway pay Sweden to take their refuse. This both saves Norway the cost (environmentally and financially) of having to utilize landfills and Sweden benefits by having near zero-cost energy.
In the video watched this week Waste=Food [cradle to cradle] the process of harnessing a cradle to cradle approach to waste brought forth the issues that are currently part of the United States. As a country we have begun to adopt ‘green’ architecture along with sustainability recycling but the end result could be better. Currently the EPA estimates that about 40% of solid waste in the United States is attributed to construction waste (most notably wood, cardboard, and drywall). Another statistic notes that on average a 2000 square foot house produces 8000 lbs of waste. This is a problem.
One way to reduce this waste would be to adopt two approaches. As a country people need to continue in an upward trend of thinking about a product’s life cycle from beginning to end and how they can keep that product in a revolving cycle. Second referencing the typical Swedish lifestyle, do Americans need to have, on average, a 2300 square foot house? In Sweden the average house size is 1475 square feet; more than enough room to live comfortably. Whether it’s landfills or design, sustainability must adopt a cradle to cradle approach if waste management and reduction is to occur.
1). Gellerman, Bruce. “Sweden imports waste from European neighbors to fuel waste-to-energy program”. Living on Earth. 26 June 2012.
2). BBC. “Average Home Sizes Around the World”. Apartment Therapy. 11 July 2012.
3). Bittle, Joel. “Home Construction’s Dirty Secret: 8000 lbs of Waste Per 2000 Square Foot House”. Green Building Elements. 8 January 2009.