Recycling and Waste in Norway

I am continually surprised by how good Norway is at recycling and waste as compared to the US. Only 2% of waste in Norway ends up in a landfill as compared to 54% of waste in the US. Isn’t that incredible? Want to know how they do it. Here goes:

24% of waste is recycled. I’m actually surprised this number isn’t higher because close to 97% of all soda cans and plastic bottles are recycled because of their PANT system (compared to 30% in the US) . Norwegians pay an extra 10-25 cents to buy a drink in a bottle and get that money back when they recycle it at their local grocery store. This system helps reduce litter in the city because people are more than happy to pick up a bottle on the street (or even take it out of the trash can) so they can get refunded money for it and I think the system probably makes Norwegians a little healthier because soda is just that much more expensive.

Maddie and Ada have gotten in the habit of picking up trash and recycling to help sea turtles (as Ada said this morning “We have to pick up the trash so the sea turtles won’t eat it.”) Just yesterday Maddie found an aluminum can on the street on the way to school. We had a little time before school started, so Maddie returned it at the grocery store on the way to school, got a receipt for approximately  2 kr (25 cents) and proudly shared her story with her class. She wants to use her money from PANTing to buy candy for herself, Ada and two friends from school who she has playdates with this weekend.

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Here is a pic of Ada PANTing some the other two bottles we have collected since living here:

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Besides PANTing, Norwegians are able to recycle not only the harder plastics like we do in the US but also the more flexible plastic food packaging and bags. I think this is because in the US most of our recycling goes into one container (single stream) and the plastic bags and other food packaging gets easily caught and stuck in the motors that separate out the other recycling at the recycling plant. Because Norwegians separate out their own recycling at home, they can accept almost all types of plastic for recycling. Here is a pic of what plastics they accept as well as what our plastic recycling trash can looks like in our apartment building:

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In Delaware, the recycling facility told me that if the recyclables from St. Andrew’s School were contained in a plastic bag or trash can liner, they would reject the whole thing because their facility doesn’t accept flexible plastics. It is so nice here that people don’t have to worry about that.

Norwegians also individually separate out paper from recycling which is probably the only way to do it these days. China has stopped taking some of the paper recycling in the US because it is too contaminated (too wet) because of the other recyclables in the single stream recycling system. It’s nice to know when I recycle paper in Norway that it most definitely is getting recycled.

Unfortunately, recycling metal and glass in Norway is harder than in the states. Instead of recycling them at the curb or in your apartment building, you have to carry your glass and metal to central collection places near the grocery store like this one. I’m a little suprised that it’s harder because metal at least is the most valuable recyclable of them all:

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Norwegians also compost 14% of their waste. The city of Oslo makes composting super easy- they provide you with the composting bags for free (we can pick them up in our apartment building or at the local library among other places) and you deposit it right next to where you deposit your other waste.

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Therefore close to 14% of all waste in Oslo is composted or made into biogas. Not all buses in Oslo currently run on biogas but a lot of them do. Ruter’s goal is to have their entire bus fleet be fossil fuel free by 2020 and be one third electric by 2025 which is pretty incredible.

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So what is left? Not that much. In the US most kitchen trash cans are quite large, but in Norway, every single one we have seen is about pretty small. In fact, most of the residents in our apartment complex use shopping bags for their unrecyclable/uncompostable waste because they are just the right size for the small amount of waste that is left. Here is a pic of our trash can and of the types of bags you see thrown out here (notice not many people buy their own trash bag liners):

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In the US almost all of this waste (54%) goes to a landfill. The other 12% is sent to waste to energy facilities in the US. In Norway, they send all of their leftover waste (57%) to a waste to energy incinerator and 2% to landfills. There are a ton of these facilities throughout Europe I’m guessing this is because land in Europe is at a premium. Norway does lead the way in turning waste into energy. Norway has three plants in all, the plant in Oslo creates enough heat for 4,000 homes and enough electricity for all the school’s in Oslo. The incinerators themselves are financially viable because they make half of their profits from creating electricity and heat from waste and the other half from fees charged to dispose of waste. Because of this heat, the City of Oslo plans to have all heating in the city be fossil fuel free by 2020. They also plan to build a carbon capture and storage system so that the CO2 created from the waste burned does not exacerbate climate change. (They also do a really good job of removing the pollutants from burning the waste and using the ash leftover for road building and other construction projects.) I’m not completely sold on waste to energy because it seems like we should be producing less waste and burning waste does produce some pretty bad toxins which have to be carefully disposed of. Also, twaste to energy plants are often located in low income areas and the pollution is more likely to harm those who are the most vulnerable. However, what Norway has done does seem to be pretty thoughtful and profitable and somehow seems better than making mountains out of our waste like we do in the states.

Overall, it’s pretty nice living in a city where being good to the environment is so easy though I have to say- after reading “No Impact Man” last year and hearing how hard you have to work to remove waste from your life, Norway and the US still have a long way to go in terms of waste production. I mean is that plastic wrapping my cucumber really necessary?

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