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Sweden shines can India shine too?

•        Zero waste zone

•        Recycling revolution

•        Waste to energy programme

Overload of waste? Well, the Swedish people don’t think so. The Scandinavian country has recently made it to the headlines due to its new feat. It recycles a whopping 99 per cent of its waste. Yes, that is right. In fact less than one per cent of the country’s entire waste goes untreated and ends up in a landfill. So why are we telling you about this? Why should we, a country so different in its geographical location, climate, culture, population and ethos, ponder over this? Because we can learn from the Swedish experience. Yes, despite all the differences staring at us in the face, the fundamentals of waste management remain the same.

We all heard the Prime Minister talk about sanitation, cleanliness and toilets in his Independence Day Speech, that later became a topic of heated debates, nationwide. He said the country has to put in efforts to cut down on the garbage it generates. But how? Is it really that simple? People,  policies, processes… what else needs to be fixed?

Perhaps it is for this reason we can look at Sweden for a few tips. The country manages its waste so well that it is now importing garbage from the UK, Italy, Norway and Ireland.  It manages its waste so effectively mainly by following a waste-management hierarchy: prevention (reduce), reuse, recycling, recycling alternatives, and lastly, disposal (landfill).

Lesson no 1: Landfills come in at the bottom of the hierarchy. So what is the biggest mistake India commits? Take a trip through the entrance or exit of any city or state and you will be forced to look away. Heaps of waste are blindly dumped at landfills.

Lesson no 2: Waste segregation. In Sweden, before garbage is sent to incinerator plants, trash is filtered at home and at businesses. Organic waste is separated, paper picked from recycling bins, and any material that can be salvaged and reused pulled aside. As mandated by Swedish law, producers are responsible for handling all costs related to collection and recycling or disposal of their products. If a beverage company sells bottles at stores, the financial onus is on them to pay for bottle collection as well as related recycling or disposal costs.

Lesson no 3: Ownership and Incentives.  Swedish rules introduced in the 1990s incentivised companies to take a more proactive, eco-conscious role on what products they take to market. It was also a clever way to alleviate taxpayers of full waste management costs.

Waste to Energy (WTE)

How does this work? Furnaces are loaded with garbage. Once set on burning, it generates steam. This steam is then used to spin generator turbines to produce electricity. Doesn’t really sound impossible now, does it? The generated electricity is then transferred to transmission lines and a grid distributes it across the country.

Why can’t the same programme be implemented in India? At least a few pilot projects? In any case, more than 40 per cent of the world’s trash is burned, mostly in open air, as reported in the journal of Environmental Science and Technology. India is no different. Surely, Sweden has not turned squeaky clean over night.  Policies, perseverance and practice by the residents of the country have all contributed to its sparkling success. India can definitely make a start. Soon.

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Sweden shines can India shine too?