By: Guest Contributor, Andrew Johnson
The people of Yorkshire are known to say “where there’s muck there’s brass” and although it probably doesn’t translate directly into Norwegian, they definitely understand the concept.
The phrase was coined to mean that where there are dirty jobs to be done, there is money to be made. Norway is leading the way in Europe by turning other countries’ unwanted waste into energy, so they are successfully turning trash into cash.
Here is a look at how and why the market for importing waste to burn in Norwegian incinerators is growing at such a fast pace and what we can learn from it.
The first thing to point out is probably how ironic it might be for some people to consider that a country like Norway, which has plentiful oil supplies, is importing such a vast amount of other nations’ rubbish. But in the world of commerce, Europe’s rubbish is fast becoming a sought-after commodity.
Paying to send our waste
Waste is something we should all try to avoid when it comes to energy consumption and when you look at this energy use heatmap for the UK, there are certainly opportunities to improve our own efficiency – and this isn’t just about energy. In 2012, the UK actually paid to send around 45,000 tonnes of household waste collected from Bristol and Leeds to Norway. The Climate and Pollution Agency in Norway are heavily involved in the waste recovery process and they are keen to accept rubbish from other European countries as well, to continue feeding their incinerators.
Other UK towns have expressed an interest in sending their waste over to Norway. The fee paid to receive the waste accounts for about 50% of the income derived by the Climate and Pollution Agency and the other 50% is generated from the sale of energy they create.
Energy companies like npower already use innovative techniques to manage water and waste such as ash from their coal-fired power stations but in general terms of generating energy from household rubbish, it is hard to argue with the notion that Norway currently lead the way in this sphere.
20 million people
That is the current capacity for the 420 different waste incinerator plants dotted around Europe. It is estimated that 20 million people can receive their heat and electricity from facilities that are capable of turning waste into energy.
Germany is actually the largest importer of rubbish in Europe, followed by Sweden, Belgium and the Netherlands, but it is Norway that heads the performance charts when it comes to having the largest share of waste to energy in district heat production.
Moving away from landfills
There is a growing trend in most European countries to move away from using landfill sites and therefore the prospect of turning waste into energy is a very attractive one.
The total figure for Europe is that we dump some 150m tonnes of waste into landfills every year, which confirms the level of potential that exists to turn more of that waste into energy rather than burying it in the ground.
Some UK waste centres actually find it cheaper to pay countries like Norway to take their waste from them rather than pay the landfill fees.
Not all rubbish is the same
The Norwegians are renowned for being meticulous about their waste and every household is asked to sort their rubbish into three categories.
They divide their rubbish into plastic for recycling, food waste (for biogas) anything else that will then be destined for the waste plant. The concern is that whether the rubbish coming from places like the UK has been properly sorted and ready for immediate use.
Concerns about recycling
Environmentalist group Friends of the Earth have concerns that burning our rubbish to generate energy may actually discourage people from recycling.
They estimate that 80% of what ends up in the average waste stream is easy recyclable and if householders think that their rubbish is going to end up in an incinerator they may not be so diligent with their recycling efforts.
Estimates suggest that about 70% of the Norwegian population supports or is comfortable with the idea of burning waste to create fuel.
If you consider it to be a positive that waste can be turned into energy using incinerators then you will understand why their country is so keen to have the rubbish that we don’t want.
Recycling image via Wikimedia.
Andrew Johnson loves his work researching energy concerns and solutions. With an eye on renewable energy and innovative ways to get it, he enjoys blogging about his research and insights into the future of energy in the modern world.