A Swedish rubbish based power plant

Sweden is suffering a terrible shortage. It’s almost completely run out of rubbish and now has to import it! As a model of democracy, transparency and environmentalism Sweden cannot be beaten and now they have the best energy crisis you could imagine. They make much of their electricity from household waste and they landfill less than 4% of their rubbish every year. They have no mountainous landfills creating rat epidemics and leaking greenhouse gases (the biggest of which, methane, is a wasted power source in its own right).

Swedish rubbish is separated into four recycling compartments in their bins, the most important of which is burnable waste; half a tonne per person per year. Burning, of course, waves a red flag but the Swedes have been doing this since the 1940’s and they have it down. All the emissions are put through scrubbers that release about 1% of the gases produced and permanently lock up the rest. It seems the Swedes like to breathe as well as have street lighting…

Thus, for the last few years, Sweden has gotten it so right it is now importing rubbish from neighbouring countries. Sweet, I thought, even if our government is won’t learn from them directly they can sell our trash, but no, they have that sewn up too and we’d have to pay them for the service.  It only works sustainably if a country imports very locally, though.

So is this an idea that we can transplant to any other country? Yes, it is. It takes nothing more than a decision to think in the longer term. In Ireland, we run our power stations on gas and peat, both producing a lot of CO2 and both as unsustainable as coal or oil.  The downside is that if we over-do it, we will also run out of rubbish and never get over our addiction to binning everything. Importing would mean we would be encouraging other countries to leave their rubbish problems as they are and just ship them to us. We have wind and water power here in Ireland and this idea could best be used to supplement those, replacing conventional power (and the damage of waste) pretty quickly by adapting the existing stations and, when necessary, replacing them with top-of-the-line Swedish style incinerators. The government, waste management companies and we, the people, just need to put our minds to it and don’t instantly dismiss the idea based on snap reactions about incineration and initial costs.

Imagine running out of waste…

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