Why do Americans go to Sweden to Learn About Trash?

Last week, a delegation of Americans from 16 different cities and states went to Sweden to look at how we manage our waste, so that they could get inspiration on how to improve their management as well as inspire Swedish agencies and companies to...

Last week, a delegation of Americans from 16 different cities and states went to Sweden to look at how we manage our waste, so that they could get inspiration on how to improve their management as well as inspire Swedish agencies and companies to improve their own. The U.S. and Sweden face different problems but can still work on solutions together. The U.S. have much waste that doesn’t get recycled and instead ends up in landfills. Sweden in turn imports waste to create energy by incineration but has a growing urban population. A well-functioning waste management is an important step to create smarter cities with today’s rapidly growing urban population.

A Swedish Recycling Station. Simon Paulin/imagebank.sweden.se

Waste management in the U.S. today

Because it’s a country with a high economic activity, U.S. produces lots of waste. So much in fact, that among the OECD countries it generates the largest amount of municipal solid waste per person. According to the World Bank, North America (the U.S., Canada and Bermuda) make up for around five percent of the global population but generated 14 percent of the world’s waste in 2016. Much of the waste, more than 55 %, is dry recyclables like cardboard, paper and plastic. Around the same amount of the waste is also disposed of in sanitary landfills, while one-third is recycled and about 12 percent is incinerated in incinerators with energy recovery.

For more than 20 years, China imported plastic waste from around the world. Chinese companies recycled it and sold the raw material. It abruptly ended in 2018 however, and from importing around 70 percent of the world’s plastic waste China took in less than one percent of its 2016 total in 2018.

The Waste Management Inspiration Tour

The tour started in Helsingborg, a city that has a unique waste innovation park, and then went to the capitol of Sweden, Stockholm. The goal of the tour, other than to inspire to an improved waste management, was to create intensified dialogue, greater knowledge exchange and broader lasting and reciprocal relationships between American policy and decision-makers, and Swedish cities, industry, government agencies, academia, start-ups and entrepreneurs. The initiative was a collaboration between the Swedish Institute, Smart City Sweden, and the Embassy of Sweden in Washington D.C.

Helsingborg

In Helsingborg the delegation met with the municipality and got a thorough introduction to the Swedish Waste Management system. They also visited the recycling company NSR and waste handling facilities like Vera Park Circularity and Filbornaverket as well as the wastewater company NSVA.

Stockholm                                         

In Stockholm the delegation met with the municipality as well as the Swedish Energy Agency and Envac, a global waste handling company. They visited the suburb Hammarby Sjöstad and had a beautiful reception at the U.S. Embassy. The whole tour ended with a workshop on Eco Governance.

Nora Myrne Widfors, Intern at the Office of Science and
Innovation in Washington D.C.