As a result of overzealous recycling, the nation of 9.5 million citizens must now import rubbish from other countries in order to feed its waste-to-energy incineration power plants. Each year the Scandinavian country imports 80,000 tonnes of garbage, mostly from Norway, to fuel homes and businesses.
While at one level its amusing and we can admire the Swedes' intelligence and ability to stick with an idea, it raises a problem that I have been harping on about for a long time. Right now we have a lot of people trying to figure out how to turn the vast amounts of waste we create into something useful, from insulation and other building materials to methane and other forms of energy.
In the medium term, however, that is a dead-end strategy because the waste stream itself is dependent on excessive, unsustainable consumption. As the Global Financial Crisis continues to roll out and become an increasingly economic one, our ability to generate waste streams will diminish; we will buy less stuff and that we do buy will have less packaging and we will throw out less of it.
Anyone trying to create a busines based on that waste is NOT an environmentalist nor have they thought through the whole process, they are every bit as invested in our failing waste-producing economy as the worst waste creator, literally.
Its a good way to start cleaning up the environmental damage that landfill is doing, but its also creating an even more concetratedly toxic material in the contaminated ash that is being shipped back to Norway. If all the Norwegians do is bury the stuff, they are lining up for an even worse problem down the track. At the very least it needs to be baked into building materials in a form that wont leach the heavy metals etc, or vitrified.
And then there's the energy budget. Right now its trucks burning diesel carting this stuff back and forth, they are talking about shipping stuff to and from the Italy, Romania and the Baltic states, much, much more diesel and then the energy costs of making the ash safe. I'm betting that quite soon we will reach a point where burning the diesel to make electricity will be financially better than moving the waste, so the only net benefit will be environmental, and that will be limited. If the sending nation has to pay dfor the transport they will very quickly decide that trading even more of their environmental standards will not only be preferable, it will be the only affordable option.
We are now in the phase of the process where we will reach the limits of every economic and energy strategy very quickly. This is just more evidence that the Club of Rome was right, we have reached the limits to growth and now we are trying to stave off the collapse instead of reorganising ourselves around the new reality.
Hell, we aren't even starting the public conversation about that.