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The global waste crisis and why Sweden has it sussed...

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14th Feb 2020

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The global waste problem is an ongoing issue on a global scale. In September 2015, the ISWA (The International Solid Waste Association) released a report highlighting the global heath emergency which affects millions of people across the globe in developing countries with lack of proper sanitation facilities.

Wasted Health: The tragic case of dumpsite outlines how issues surrounding open dumpsites in developing countries are compounded by unprecedented issues such as the unregulated accumulation of discarded electronics, mobile phones and medical waste. The report found that roughly 40 per cent of the worlds waste is received by open dumpsites, serving around 3.5-4 billion people. It called for a global alliance to take coordinated action to address the global issue of open dumpsites.

More recently, the ISWA released a statement stressing their wish to remind governments and organisations that the waste generated by nearly three billion people is not collected into a formal waste management process. Approximately 40 per cent of the worlds total waste is dumped in unregulated open sites such as the banks of rivers or stretches of coastline. The issue of marine plastic pollution has received significant attention recently, with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation Report, The New Plastics Economy estimating that there will be more plastics than fish (by weight) in the worlds oceans by 2050, and the documentary A Plastic Ocean investigating the global effects of plastics disposal.

The implications of this is obviously a huge risk to human health, the environment and the global economy. Exposure to open dumpsites alone has a greater detrimental impact on a populations life expectancy than malaria.

One country that has nailed the recycling problem is Sweden. Sweden is so good at recycling, that for several years they have been importing other Countries waste to keep their plants going. So how have they done it? Culturally, Sweden is miles ahead of us when it comes to the environment. Back in 1991, Sweden was one of the first countries to implement a heavy tax on fossil fuels and now sources nearly half of all it's electricity from renewables.

Additionally, Sweden has also implemented a cohesive national recycling policy, which means that the energy that comes from private companies importing and burning waste goes into a national heating network that then heats homes through the cold winters. Anna-Carin Gripwall, director of communications for Avfall Sverige said "That s a key reason that we have this district network, so we can make use of the heating from the waste plants. In the southern part of Europe they don t make use of the heating from the waste, it just goes out the chimney. Here we use it as a substitute for fossil fuel."

Whilst the UK is making steps towards a better waste management system, we still have a way to go. To build infrastructure like this it takes time, resources and the involvement and interest of citizens to segregate waste at home. We need to keep spreading the word and encourage individuals to recycle, recycle, recycle.