Burning industrial and municipal waste for heat

When talking about environmental problems and solutions there’s no single answer. It’s a complex, multifaceted problem and people on an individual level to global companies and nations have an effect on our environment. Biomass fuel can be a part of the solution to the growing problems. Biomass don’t just consist of one material, there’s many different kind of fuels and different grades. One type of fuel that has a big importance is municipal and industrial waste which is a second grade biomass fuel. The reason why this fuel is important is because everybody on our planet contributes waste products and to be able to use those waste products to gain energy and heating can be beneficial but it also has a lot of problems.

In Sweden industrial and municipal waste products are used to heat buildings with district heating. In 2014 waste products amounted to 22% of the total amount of fuel that was burned in district heating plants. One of the problems with Sweden’s use of waste for district heating is that a large amount of the waste used is imported, almost one third is imported, mostly from Norway and Britain. The importation of the waste contributes to the global warming because almost all means of transportation consumes fossil fuels. Another problem is that the ash that’s left after burning the waste is toxic. The toxic ash is transported back to Norway where it’s stored in a limestone quarry on the island Langøya. (Naturskyddsföreningen 2016).

The reason why we use waste products as fuel is because it’s considered better than storing it in a landfill waste. According to a EU waste hierarchy the EU countries should:
– Minimize the amount of waste generated
– Reuse as much as possible
– Recycle. If possible recycle the material and if not possible recycle the energy.
– Store the waste in a landfill
Being able to recycle the energy in the materials generates heating to around 1 million homes in Sweden. (Avfall Sverige 2020).

It’s hard to judge if using waste is a good solution from an environmental perspective. It’s better than storing waste in a landfill according to EU directives but that doesn’t say much in my opinion. Importing waste and exporting toxic ash like we do in Sweden seems counterproductive and there’s got to be a better solution than the current system in place. I believe that the biggest problem isn’t recycling the energy in the waste, the problem is the amount of waste that we generate and the waste that cant be recycled or reused as material. We recycle the energy in the materials because there’s no better solution and if we instead reduced the waste and made more products that could be recycled that would be a better way to reduce our environmental impact.



Naturskyddsföreningen (2016). Högt miljöpris för sopimport. Downloaded 2020-09-20 from: https://www.naturskyddsforeningen.se/sveriges-natur/2016-3/hogt-miljopris-sopimport
Avfall Sverige (2020). Energiåtervinning. Downloaded 2020-09-20 from: https://www.avfallsverige.se/avfallshantering/avfallsbehandling/energiatervinning/

2 Comments on “Burning industrial and municipal waste for heat

  1. First of all good job, i consider this a really interesting subject. Since i do not speak Swedish and i am not sure if it is already mentioned in the picture, did you find any number according to how much of municipal waste does Sweden produce nowadays (per capita or in total)? And regarding the fact of minimising the waste, what would be the substitute of its portion that is already used for the energy production, because if returning back to fossil maybe that would have a bigger impact in the environment. Thanks!

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  2. Thank you Viktor for this well written blog post. I agree with your reasoning and ask the same question: Is it really ok to import waste to burn it, and to then export the toxic ash back to Norway? I think it would be very interesting to carry out a life cycle assessment on the import – combustion – export of waste, to see if this is really viable. What alternatives to combusting the waste do you see? What should we do with the waste that we generate?

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