Waste = Energy quisquiliarum inopia
Sweden has a waste-to-energy program that produces energy from 2 million tons of waste each year. By burning trash, Sweden generates heating for 810,000 homes and electricity for 210,000 homes.
There is a lot of speculation about the safety and cleanliness of burning waste, but Sweden and other European countries with waste-to-energy programs have strict regulations on what get burns as well as their emissions. The practice has been around for quite a while, and Sweden says that their plants produce 90-99% less pollution than they did in the 1980s. Other studies have shown that burning waste is cleaner than burning coal, and is also cleaner than letting waste sit in a landfill – the United States EPA conducted a study that found that per unit electricity generated, greenhouse gases emissions from landfills are two to six times higher than those generated from plants that burn waste.
Sweden’s only problem seems to be that they are running out of trash to burn! They are currently importing about 800,000 tons of trash from neighboring countries. Norway actually pays Sweden to import their waste.
The practice does have its issues – it is not a perfectly clean practice, and leaves behind ash that can be toxic. However, with the world’s waste problems and the fact that it releases less greenhouse gases than unburned waste in a landfill, it seems like a practice that more countries could adopt. Or, we can all just mail our trash to Sweden.