Sweden is so good at recycling that, for several years, it has imported rubbish from other countries to keep its recycling plants going. Less than 1 per cent of Swedish household waste was sent to landfill last year or any year since 2011.
We can only dream of such an effective system in the UK, which is why we end up paying expensive transport costs to send rubbish to be recycled overseas rather than paying fines to send it to landfill under The Landfill Tax of 1996.
The UK has made strides in the proportion of waste recycled under an EU target of 50 per cent by 2020. This has underpinned hundreds of millions of pounds of investment into recycling facilities and energy recovery plants in the UK, creating many jobs. We’re not quite at that target yet. Recycling in the UK peaked at around 45 per cent of all waste in 2014
Since then, provisional figures from the ONS have shown that figure has dropped to 44 per cent as austerity has resulted in budget cuts. The decision to leave the EU could be about to make this situation worse. While Europe is aiming for a 65 per cent recycling target by 2030, the UK may be about to fall even further behind its green neighbours.
Why are we sending waste to Sweden? Their system is so far ahead because of a culture of looking after the environment. Sweden was one of the first countries to implement a heavy tax on fossil fuels in 1991 and now sources almost half its electricity from renewables
“Swedish people are quite keen on being out in nature and they are aware of what we need do on nature and environmental issues. We worked on communications for a long time to make people aware not to throw things outdoors so that we can recycle and reuse,” says Anna-Carin Gripwall, director of communications for Avfall Sverige, the Swedish Waste Management’s recycling association.
Over time, Sweden has implemented a cohesive national recycling policy so that even though private companies undertake most of the business of importing and burning waste, the energy goes into a national heating network to heat homes through the freezing Swedish winter. “That’s a key reason that we have this district network, so we can make use of the heating from the waste plants. In the southern part of Europe they don’t make use of the heating from the waste, it just goes out the chimney. Here we use it as a substitute for fossil fuel,” Ms Gripwell says