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Turning trash to cash: The Norway model

    — © Guardian Newspapers Limited
    2013
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The market in importing waste to burn in Norwegian incinerators is growing

The way forward?photo: AFP
The way forward?photo: AFP

For a country blessed with bountiful oil supplies, it may appear incongruous. But Norway is importing as much rubbish as it can get its hands on, in an effort to generate more energy by burning waste in vast incinerators.

The UK paid to send 45,000 tonnes of household waste from Bristol and Leeds to Norway between October 2012 and April this year. “Waste has become a commodity,” says Pal Spillum, head of waste recovery at the Climate and Pollution Agency in Norway. “There is a big European market for this, so much so that the Norwegians are accepting rubbish from other countries to feed the incinerator.” Norway is not alone. Germany ranks top in terms of importing rubbish, ahead of Sweden, Belgium and the Netherlands. But it’s Norway that boasts the largest share of waste to energy in district heat production.

Oslo’s waste incinerator was built with extra capacity to cater for future growth. ““Europe as a whole currently dumps 150m tonnes of waste in landfills every year, so there is clearly great potential in using waste for energy,” says Christoffer Back Vestli of the Oslo municipality.

There are worries that burning rubbish may discourage recycling. Julian Kirby, of Friends of the Earth, says: “Waste for energy isn’t as green as it’s made out to be. We estimate that 80% of what’s in the average waste stream is easily recyclable.” But most residents seem comfortable with the idea of burning waste to create fuel, with 71% of the population supporting the renewable energy source. Oistein Thomassen, a photographer from the city, says: “We produce insane amounts of waste every day, so why not use waste as fuel for heat?”— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2013

Norwegians are meticulous about their waste and divide household rubbish into three bags — blue for plastic to be recycled, green for food waste to make biogas and white for everything else that goes to the waste plant. But many are concerned that the rubbish being imported from the UK and Ireland may not be so carefully sorted.


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