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Why it was possible to organize separate collection of waste in Sweden, but not in Russia

A revolution or a dangerous system. Two views on waste recycling in Sweden

by Kirill Shein

For more than half a year, construction of a landfill site continues near the Shies railway station in the Arkhangelsk region where it is planned to store waste brought from Moscow. Residents of nearby villages protest against the landfill: they go to rallies, are on duty at the construction site, demand checks. Correspondent of «7x7» discussed this situation and the Swedish experience of waste management with the project manager of the Swedish Environmental Research Institute Ronny Arnberg. In the fall of 2018, he was invited to Moscow to talk about how a major reform of the waste management industry began in the Scandinavian country about 50 years ago, which some experts call a miracle, while others criticize for short-sightedness.


Waste management revolution?

In Sweden, there is almost no oil or gas. Therefore, until about the 70s of the last century, the government spent a lot of money on their purchase. This situation has pushed the authorities to think about abandoning carbon fossil in favor of a cheaper type of fuel. Then the idea was born to use garbage as a constantly renewable source of energy.

After 50 years, Sweden reached unique indicators: 99% of waste in the country is disposed. At the same time, a little more than 50% is recycled, more than 48% is incinerated, and a little less than 1% is stored at landfills.

At the same time, there are different rules of dealing with garbage for citizens, authorities and business. Residents of the country sort and hand over plastic, metal, glass, batteries and other waste. More than 40 years ago, it was not easy to accustom people to the separation of garbage, but the authorities decided to give a discount when paying for utility bills. All new houses are specially designed so that a space of up to 100 m² in area for waste sorting is provided at the entrance. There are three solid containers (for organic waste, for aluminum and plastic and for polyethylene) and two containers with compartments (for colored and non-colored glass; for cardboard and the rest of the paper). Responsibility of each tenant affects the utility tariff in general.

Municipal authorities are responsible for the collection of garbage in the city (including the one produced by enterprises, restaurants and shops), as well as its transportation and preparation for recycling.

Manufacturers must dispose packaging and end-of-life products: electrical goods, tires, cars, batteries, and pharmaceutical products.

Now Sweden even purchases garbage in other countries. Some experts call industry reform a miracle or revolution.


A caution against repeating Sweden’s mistakes

The head of the Greenpeace Russia toxic program, Alexey Kiselev, criticized the Swedish experience in waste management. According to him, the system built over the past 50 years is "wrong and dangerous."

In the early 2000s, many incinerators were built in the country. They began to work successfully and concluded multi-year contracts for the transfer of energy. The European Union, of which Sweden is a part, demanded that the state reach a level of processing its own expenses of up to 65% by 2030. At this point, the waste recycling plants experienced a shortage of raw materials, and in order not to disrupt the contracts, they began to buy waste abroad.

Besides, paper and plastic were often sent to waste incineration along with organic waste. After that, the filters failed, and the production stopped until they were changed.

Alexey Kiselev, in an interview with the «7x7» correspondent, referred to a publication stating that the Deputy Chairman of the Committee on Municipal Responsibility in Waste Management within the Swedish Association for Waste Disposal and Recycling Thomas Myuland warned Russia against repeating mistakes. He urged not to build waste incineration plants until Russia learns how to sort the garbage and debug the recycling industry. Incinerators in Sweden could not burn that much and send for recycling more. But now contracts require to support burning volumes.

According to Kiselev, now in Russia the processing industry is underutilized. This is due to a shortage of raw materials. The widespread introduction of separate waste collection could solve the problem. But this is not happening because officials do not believe that people will sort waste.

"The problem is completely classic, and it is not about money and not about costs. Russian officials do not believe this. They see in our people an incomprehensible mass, which cannot do anything good. In Orenburg, the former mayor saw people as partners. He founded each new site for separate waste collection himself. He was not ashamed of it. In Mytishchi, there was a threat of building an incineration plant, so they decided to organize recycling there. And a business came to Arkhangelsk that needed recycled materials. And they started doing it. Motivations are always different, but one thing is common: when you see a partner in a person, everything goes well," said Kiselev.

The head of the environmental movement "42" from Arkhangelsk, Anastasia Kochneva, agrees with Kiselev’s opinion that in some regions a separate collection system has been established as a personal initiative of one of the officials. But so far, according to her, not a single law stipulates the obligation to introduce waste sorting.

"Now the introduction of a separate collection can at least be included in the territorial scheme for waste management as responsibility of a regional operator [since November 2018, a company has been selected in each region that deals with garbage collection and disposal]. If it is not written in the scheme, then the regional operator will not introduce a separate fee, it is unprofitable for him."

Maxim Polyakov, illustration by Kirill Shane, «7x7»


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