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Sweden Implements Mandatory Food Waste Sorting: Challenges and Opportunities

A Green New Year’s Resolution: Mandatory Sorting of Food Waste in Swedish Households

Beginning on the 1st of January, new rules regarding the sorting and collection of food waste from all households are being enforced in Sweden. However, out of Sweden’s 290 municipalities, around 100 have applied for an exemption from this new law. So far, 80 have been granted this privilege.

Putting Waste in its Right Place: An EU Mandate

The requirement for all municipalities to provide the segregation of food waste comes into full effect by 1st of January 2024. This forms a part of EU’s new waste directives related to bio-waste, ensuring that food waste is collected separately and not mixed with other types of waste in EU member states. It’s not just households, but also business establishments that produce food waste, who are obliged to abide by these mandates.

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Many municipalities, such as Eskilstuna and Örebro, have been pioneers in sorting food waste for years, having adopted the practice of using brown paper bags or optical-reading annotated bags for sorting at waste facilities.

Hurdles in Implementation

Yet, for some municipalities, this law currently remains unattainable:

“There’s no lack of willingness on our part, but it’s a significant change that we haven’t been able to fully implement yet” says Oscar Aspman, waste management chief in Krokom, one of the hundred municipalities that has been exempted.

Oscar points out that the nature of the demographic presents problems. In municipalities resembling Krokom—primarily those in rural areas—finding an adequate, tailored waste collection system is a challenge. For instance, many households are located along highways where traffic safety necessitates the use of side-loading vehicles which currently do not exist in the market.

Looking Towards the Future

By 1st of January 2027, municipalities have to provide for the separate collection of packaging as well, a task previously under the purview of package producers.

“For both environmental and economic reasons, we can’t make two significant changes in a short time. We are working to find a comprehensive solution and aim to have it by 2027” assures Oscar.

In Avfall Sverige, the municipal industry organization for waste management, it is acknowledged that many municipalities are faced with a substantial transformation requiring critical decisions. Andrea Hjärne, a senior environmental lawyer, supports the enforcement of this law but also emphasizes the short time frame given to municipalities to comply.

Andrea touches on the fact that different demographics require flexible systems:
“The challenges vary from one municipality to another. In densely populated cities, lack of space could be an issue whereas in the archipelago or rural areas, the distances can be long. Our goal is to create a system that is economically justifiable and efficient throughout the country.”

The Power of Food Waste

Food waste will either be composted or processed in biogas plants, which can be used as fuel for vehicles, reducing climate emissions significantly. In smaller municipalities like Krokom, the hope is to use biogas-powered collection vehicles and drive a completely closed system of collection and disposal.

In conclusion, the legislation is an endeavour not just to take a giant green leap for Sweden but also a critical nudge towards a more sustainable European Union. The road is rough, with challenges aplenty, but the outcome promises a greener, cleaner Sweden and a healthier planet. As we unravel the future of waste management, let’s remember the essence of this mission – make every waste count, especially what comes out of our kitchens.

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