Everywhere you go in Sweden these days you will find that local communities with an impressive set up for handling garbage through stations where the environment conscious Swede is diligently sorting and depositing his garbage divvied up in plastic drink container , other hard plastics, metal, glass, paper and carton. A far cry from the Australian kerbside yellow lid garbage bins where everything goes.
The reduction in the amount of garbage since this system was rolled out in Sweden in the 1990s is substantial but it has had another flow on effects where Sweden and the local councils as early adopters in garbage handling is harvesting low hanging fruit.
The local sorting of the garbage coincided with the construction and commission of efficient compact power stations that generate district hot water for local distribution in a network connected by pipelines. These networks typically comprised of 100s to a thousand dwellings served.
The power stations typically lie on the outskirts of the built up areas that they serve. This is a very efficient and relatively low cost way of providing heat to the well insulated Swedish houses.
These small power stations are most often local council owned and operated.
As such they are not supposed to be profit generating operations but lately they have besides generating heat for the local community started to generate wealth for the local councils.
The steady increase in efficiencies in garbage sorting and the reduction in the total amount of garbage generated have over the decades had the unintended adverse effect that Sweden was rapidly running out of garbage to burn in their furnaces. The cold reality was that they needed to operate 24-7 to generate enough hot water to last through the peak consumption periods during the long winters and the economies lay in burning garbage.
This excess capacity in garbage handling prompted entrepreneurial Swedish councils to look elsewhere for trash and they soon discovered that they could source treasure from nearby Norway, the Baltic States, and the United Kingdom.
The business proposition of cross border garbage handling is based on a win-win situation for both parties. Unwanted garbage can be exported to Sweden by countries that have not invested to the same extent in garbage sorting and destruction. There is little doubt that this is a better option than depositing it into landfills. And the neighbouring countries are willing to pay to get rid of the garbage. It's cheaper than investing in garbage handling capacity at least in the short term.
The Swedish power plant owners are paid about AUD 63 per metric tonne of garbage by their trading partners across the borders. In 2014 Sweden imported 2.3 million metric tonnes of garbage. That corresponds to a net income to local Swedish councils of AUD 145 million. To put the cross border inflow in context it equates to more than 800 fully laden garbage trucks with 8 metric tonnes of garbage entering Sweden every day 365 days a year.
So for the local Swedish councils that own and operate the power stations their initial investment in a power station and associated technology has become the gift that keeps on giving and they are raking it in.
And then they also naturally charge the home owners in the community they serve for the hot water and electricity used. So they are generating a second income stream from the power generation.
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