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.


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

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:



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:

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.



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.


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):



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?


A visit from a friend and two Norwegian explorers

This past weekend, Mary Lewis, an old friend from college became our first visitor to Norway to stay with us at our apartment. We had a wonderful time together exploring Oslo, going to festivals, and during our last day together, learning about a Norwegian Explorer Thor Heyerdahl. Here is a pic of Mary Lewis and I exploring Oslo (using Rick Steve’s walking tour which was actually pretty great):


On Sunday night, we watched the newest movie about Thor Heyerdahl’s adventure on the “Kon-Tiki” in 1947 and then Monday while the kids were in school, we went to the Kon Tiki museum in Oslo where we saw the boat he helped build. (The movie was pretty good and is streaming on Netflix for free but unfortunately only in Norwegian. So, we rented the english version from  iTunes.) 

In middle school, Thor told his teachers he wanted to uncovery scientific mysteries like that of Easter Island. After graduating college, he pursued his dream and spent a year with his wife on a Polynesian island where he developed a theory that some native Polynesians came from Peru to the West of Polynesia, 4,300 miles away. Scientists at the time believed all of Polynesia was settled from the East. In particular he heard of the legend of “Kon-Tiki” who came to the island on a balsa wood raft from Peru. After he was unsuccessful convincing others that his theory was plausible, he decided to test it out himself with a six man crew by building a balsa wood raft and then successfully sailing it on a 101 day, 4,300 mile journey journey across the Pacific. The Kon-Tiki museum has the original balsa wood raft and the supplies they used on it. Below is a pic of the ship- Doesn’t it look flimsy?:


A few crazy factoids about their journey:

  1. Because of a near drowning incident in childhood, Thor evidently was scared of water and didn’t even know how to swim before he decided to sail across the Atlantic. In fact only one person in their six man crew had any experience in the ocean!
  2. At the time, scientists thought that it was only possible to catch fish near the shore and that in the middle of the ocean, fish were so scarce that they thought no one could have sailed far without proper provisions. On Thor’s journey, breakfast almost every day consisted of flying fish that became stranded on the raft the night before. So, he helped prove that theory incorrect. 
  3. They brought a parrot with them that bit through the radio line that allowed them to have contact with the outside world
  4. They were unable to steer the raft well and when they got close to the Polynesian islands, natives would paddle to them but they couldn’t steer the boat to their islands. They ended up basically crashing their raft on a reef (where the wind and current brought their ship) just outside some polynesian islands.
  5. Almost everyone was convinced the ropes holding the raft together would fall apart after 14 days and that the entire crew would die. Thor didn’t believe them and didn’t even bring enough extra rope to tie them together again if they did break. Fortunately the ropes dug into the balsa soft balsa wood which protected the ropes (and their lives) for the entire 101 day journey.
  6. Thor wrote a best selling book and based on footage he took on their journey an Oscar winning documentary in 1950 after his journey which you can also see in the Kon-Tiki museum or rent on iTunes.

After watching the movie and seeing the museum, I was stunned by how unprepared and how daring Thor was when undertaking the Kon-Tiki expedition and how incredible it was that they all survived that 101 day journey across the ocean. It was also humbling to know how little scientists knew in 1948 and how little we still know today.

A little under two weeks ago, I read a book about Roald Amundsen, another Norwegian explorer, and his adventures exploring the Arctic. I also got the chance to tour his home with the International Woman’s Club of Oslo. Below is a pic of a few of us by his statue by his house:


Roald Amundsen was the first person to reach the South Pole and also the first person to reach both the south and north pole. He died at the age of 55 trying to rescue a fellow arctic explorer by airplane and his house is almost exactly the same as he left it in 1928. A few interesting facts about Roald:

  1. When he was young, he was inspired by another famous Norwegian polar explorer Fritdjof Nansen and would open his window in the middle of the night in Norway so he could get accustomed to arctic conditions. His poor parents!
  2. As a young man, he tried to explore northern norway in the dead of winter with his brother outside for a week with just sleeping bags (no tent) and a small amount of food. Within the first few days they almost died after they tried to make their own shelter in the snow and were frozen in overnight. After that experience he decided he would never be unprepared for anything.
  3. His mother wanted him to be a doctor but she died in the middle of his training. After she passed away, he quite medical school to pursue his dream of exploring the arctic.
  4. On the first expedition he lead, his creditors threatened to cancel their journey until they got their money back. Thor decided to leave in the middle of the night to escape them and he evidently got away with it.
  5. The doctors on his expeditions all ended up sneaking the morphine from the medicine cabinet and becoming addicted for the rest of their lives. On his last expedition, Roald decided to just bring the cabinet and no doctor so he wouldn’t have to deal with that unfortunate side effect. Below is a pic of the medicine cabinet he brought with him on his most recent Arctic expedition. It’s smell was very strong when our guide opened it up for us.IMG_2343
  6. They would set out on journey’s expecting with provisions to feed themselves for 3- 5 years because they expected to be trapped in the ice with little chance of finding other food for entire winters. I think they brought biscuits, and chocolate, and 
  7. He learned from natives to the Arctic how to avoid scurvey by eating raw meat (from seals) which had just enough vitamin C in it. (He actually learned a lot from native people and had these beautiful pictures in the windows in his home that were taken on his expeditions.)IMG_2324
  8. Lots of explorers died in horrific ways trying to get to the North and South Pole. Conditions there are unbelievably harsh!
  9. NASA studied Roald Amundsen and his expeditions to learn what space explorers would have to undertake when going to the moon.
  10. At one point he decided to train a baby polar bear but it didn’t work out so the polar bear ended up stuffed in his home. There is the head of another polar bear on a cabinet by his picture.

And here are a few bonus pics- Walking through his house really felt like walking back in time. It was amazing. From left to right and top to bottom- an outdoor porch area, his living room with the original furniture/lamps, the study where he planned his expeditions (and a huge map of the arctic), the outside of his home, the bathroom, and the amazing detailed painting so the wire matched the wall paper, and finally his bedroom (Norwegians still tend to have bedrooms just big enough for their beds) with port holes so he could feel like he was on a ship.

After we toured his home, we went to a cute coffee house and a friend ordered Norwegian waffles which Norwegian’s eat either with jam or brown cheese. (Waffles and hot dogs are evidently very Norwegian.)


Both of these trips have taught me again, how little I know about our world. I seriously had never heard of these two explorers yet in their time, they were world famous! It also made me realize that although I’ve always considered myself adventurous (I biked across the US in college!), I am much to risk adverse to do anything close to what Roald Amundsen and Thor accomplished! Those guys are crazy!


Dressing for Barnehage

On the first day of school, John and I got to sit through a presentation from her teachers about Ada’s preschool and how Ada should dress. In Norway, young children attend  “barnehage” which translates to children’s garden just like kindergarten. Barnehage is basically equivalent to preschool/day care for children from 0 to 5 years old. Barnehege is heavily subsidized by the state and children who attend are required to spend at least one to two hours outside every day unless it is below 14F. That means even if it rains cats and dogs outside all day like it did on Tuesday of last week or if it’s freezing cold or sleeting, they spend time outside.

Norwegians have a saying (though I’ve heard this in the US too) “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” To that end, here is what Ada’s preschool teachers told us Ada would need to be able to participate comfortably outside at preschool.

For rain or wet weather, Ada and her friends have rain pants and rain coats. The pants are more like trousers and have an elastic that goes around the shoe. So, they are pretty impenetrable. They also put these over their snow suits in the winter if it’s especially wet snow outside:


As a side note, I think it’s pretty neat that Ada’s friends back in Delaware get to wear full body rain suits as St. Anne’s Episcopal preschool trials a nature preschool!

For colder weather, the kids dress in layers. First they put on wool (“ull” in Norwegian) long underwear:


A one piece fleece suit:


A one piece heavy winter suit (again note the elastic to go underneath the boot):


Wool socks and good snowshoes (Viking and Ecco are good Norwegian brands that make warm shoes with Goretex on the outside for water resistance/breathability):IMG_2428

And another pair of snow boots for wet snows (basically wool lined rain boots):


Finally, a hat and fleece scarf or a balaclava (shown below) and really nice mittens that can go over the sleeves of a coat:

IMG_2429Unfortunately because we are new to Norway, I don’t have the awesome network of friends and family giving us hand-me-downs for all of this necessary clothing. These clothes also can be quite expensive. A good set of new winter boots can put you back $100 and a good pair of mittens can cost up to $50! However, I have been able to find almost everything we need used through other parents at Ada’s school, facebook groups or the local craigslist ( at extremely reasonable prices. Although it takes more time to obtain clothes this way, it has saved us a lot of money, and of course I hope it has also helped the environment through reuse. (Plus, it was fun to go to random parts of the city to meet up with the sellers.)

I almost forgot to mention that Ada will also occasionally need “wind and cold cream” that parents put on their kids faces to protect their skin from getting too dry in the winter. Evidently they sell it at most “Apoteks” aka pharmacies. Yikes!

Wind and cold cream

This fall, Ada gets to go to a “nature school” every Friday where they get on a bus and go to a place where they learn about nature by spending all day outside regardless of the weather. I’m sure Ada will be putting some of this clothing to good use there as well. As you can see below, Ada will pick blueberries, learn how to whittle and operate a bow and arrow (!), build a hut with sticks, set up a trap, pitch a Norwegian tipi tent, grill around a bonfire, and do an obstacle course. How awesome is that? (At several places in Norway, I’ve actually seen small children put these skills to use by whittling sticks quite proficiently to roast a hot dog over a fire.)


Because Ada will be outside all day at nature school, we’ve had to buy her an insulated sitting mat which is quite common in Norway to protect your bottom from the wet/cold ground. Below is a pic of Ada sitting on her mat when her class chose to picnic outside near the local pool:

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Below is a pic of Ada picking up trash to celebrate international clean up day (All the kids in barnehage wear yellow or orange vests on field trips and they seem to take field trips a lot).

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And below are a few good pics of Ada and her friends playing outside this fall in preschool:

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Finally, how does the school manage all of this clothing. Each kid not only gets their own cubby which holds their indoor shoes/extra set of clothes and backpack. But each class has their own special portable closet with hooks that can hold boots and rain coats so they can dry for the next day!



What to do as a trailing spouse in Norway?

For the first time in what seems like forever, I have roughly 6 hours per day five days a week where I am not working or taking care of my kids. I could look for a job but since we are only here for a year, it seems like that could be a fruitless search (I just found out today from another expat that 90% of trailing spouses have a job before they become expats but once they move to a new country only 30% find work. I am guessing this is because without a built in social or job network or the ability to speak the local language it is really hard for a trailing spouse to find a new job. ) Anyway, having this much free time without a job is both thrilling and terrifying. What will I do with myself in Norway? I haven’t completely figured it out but here are a few things I’m currently exploring:


With so many challenges in the world and the gift of free time, I feel obligated to use some of it volunteering. Last fall I had the honor of meeting Annie Leonard, the Executive Director of Greenpeace in the US, at a St. Andrew’s parent’s home. She told us all about the amazing things Greenpeace has accomplished. To my surprise Greenpeace is not always engaging in extreme non-violent environmental activism but also does robust science and successfully pressures huge companies to do the right thing (e.g., not to overfish, log old growth forests for paper, etc.) through respectful conversations or by placing pressure on them from one step above the supply chain.  Here is a pic of whiteboarding in the Oslo office about how they want to communicate Greenpeace’s successful campaign to prevent the overfishing of Krill in the Antarctic (and Greenpeace’s press release about it is linked here):


In any case, I was excited to find out there is an active Greenpeace group in Norway with 20-25 staff members. I got a tour of their offices last Tuesday from another volunteer (a Syrian refugee who works as a computer programmer) and took a picture of their storage room below which has lots of climbing gear which is pretty neat:


Greenpeace Norway by the way is part of a larger Nordic Greenpeace non-profit that has offices in Denmark, Sweden and Finland. Evidently the Denmark chapter is the largest. The Norway group has been trying to put pressure on the Norwegian government not to lease new oil fields in the Atlantic which have opened up because of the thawing sea ice (one of the most ironic things about climate change- yeah! the ice is melting in the arctic because we burned too much oil and coal- which will in the future doom our civilization but now we can drill for even more oil!) They are also trying to stop the Norwegian government from expanding the airport and instead add a new bullet train to allow for high speed but sustainable travel.  I just talked to their volunteer coordinator on the phone today and he’s on the lookout for ways I can help during the day (most volunteers help out after work hours but I’d like to be home with my family then).

Other than Greenpeace I’m also thinking about volunteering with refugees or other humanitarian cause through the Red Cross or finding an opportunity through (a clearinghouse for volunteer opportunities in Norway) that doesn’t require me to speak Norwegian.


Because of the support of St. Andrew’s School, I’ll be able to become LEED Certified for Operations and Maintenance of Existing Buildings and a Certified Energy Manager. I’ve been interested in taking these trainings/certifications for a while but just never had time. Now I do!  I’ve just paid the course fee and started the online training for the LEED course. Both trainings require me to take a certification test in Stockholm Sweden- a 6 hour train ride away which I hope will be a fun trip. After both courses, I’m hoping to know a lot more about how to make energy improvements to buildings and how to operate them efficiently and sustainably. Hopefully I can use this knowledge back at St. Andrew’s to teach students how to make our school more sustainable.

I’m also trying to learn Norwegian. Fortunately most people in Norway speak English but it seems life would be easier here if I learned some of the local language. Norway pays for many immigrants to take Norwegian classes for free (which I think is pretty neat). Unfortunately, since we are only here for a year, I am pretty sure I don’t qualify for those free classes. So, I’m making do by taking a free University of Oslo MOOC course on Norwegian, using Duolingo, and attending “Sprakaffe” to practice speaking Norwegian with natives. Here is a pic of the first sprakaffe I attended on Wednesday at our local library. It was so neat to see so many volunteers helping immigrants practice Norwegian:

Make Friends:

It turns out there is this really amazing International Woman’s Club of Oslo which I have decided to join which is full of trailing spouses who speak English and get together during the day. The Women’s club has organized meetings with specific topics like books, walking, hiking, exploring Oslo, playing Majong, knitting and just drinking coffee or eating lunch together. I don’t know how to play Majong or knit well (though my mom has tried to teach me many times) but I think it would be neat to learn while making friends from woman all over the world. On Friday I am already planning on joining the explore Oslo club to visit the home of Roald Amundsen, a famous arctic explorer, who was the first person to reach both the North and South Poles. 


Of course, once a week John won’t work and we can explore Oslo together. I also want to keep up a good exercise routine by running (or eventually skiing) every day and then there are the more mundane tasks of doing laundry, cleaning the house, going grocery shopping and planning meals. The vast majority of Norwegians eat out only once or twice a year I guess because food here is so expensive. So, John or I have been cooking every evening. Finally, John and I will have to do some work to plan trips during their school breaks. 

Right now, I’m feeling like my 6 hours everyday goes by quickly which is good (because I’m already so busy) but also already frustrating (because I have so many things I want to do)!

An Ode to Julie

Tuesday was my sister’s birthday and I just wanted to post how grateful I am that she is my sister. This past summer, I spent about 27 days in the hospital while my mother battled complications from acute pancreatitis. My sister who who works full time as a Nurse Practitioner in Pediatrics in Decatur spent twice that amount of time. For the past two months, Julie spent at least 7 hours a day (including weekends) in the Hospital with mom. Her time there was critical to my mother’s recovery. One of the downsides of my mother’s medical care at Northside Hospital was the lack of “continuity of care.”  Both nurses and doctors are shifted around from patient to patient in an ICU unit. So, my mother after spending a few months in the hospital had only a few repeat nurses and repeat doctors who had to read through my mother’s huge chart to understand her history. By being there everyday Julie was able to educate each nurse and doctor about my mother’s medical history and help steer her care in the right direction. She texted medical updates to our family so she could gain the expertise of the medical experts in our family, and she provided care that the hospital staff didn’t have time for. (After a full month of the use of only dry shampoo, my sister figured out how we could wash my mother’s hair in a basin with water while she was in bed and she was able to gave her a pedicure.) Here is a pic of us washing my mother’s hair with an orange camping shower and a white blow up basin that my sister purchased on Amazon:


And here is a pic of my sister giving my mother a pedicure while my mother reviewed our tax returns on John’s iPad (we applied for an extension and were able to file them later this year):


My sister did all of this while caring for her twin boys (now 17 months old), her four year old daughter, and while supporting her husband who just got a new job. She is one amazing woman. When we left for Norway 3 weeks ago, I still had mixed feelings about leaving while my mother was still on the road to recovery. However, knowing Julie was there to help take care of her, certainly gave me more piece of mind. So, our family owes Julie a debt of gratitude for allowing us to be in Norway this year. By the way, my mother is headed home tomorrow after two weeks of lots of physical and occupational therapy. A celebration of her progress and for my sister’s role in her progress is certainly in order!

Swimming, swimming, in the swimming pool

It turns out that right next door to Maddie and Ada’s school (and a 10 minute walk from our apartment) is a local public indoor swimming pool that is closed during the summer but opens up during the school year. John and I decided to pay to become members at the beginning of the school year and the girls (and I) are loving it. Here is the front of the building:


I’m pretty sure Nadderud is just a name in Norwegian for the general area and hallen just means hall. When you get in you have to use an electronic rubber wrist band to let you into the changing rooms (where they have lockers that lock using the same wrist bands for your clothes). Everyone is then required to take a shower before you get in the pool.


Ada, who at first refused to get in the shower now enjoys it so much that when we leave the pool (and go through the same shower area) she and Maddie insist on keeping warm by taking an endless shower.  Next stop- the Svommehall..


The pool has three main areas. Below is the diving/swimming area for lap swimmers. In the top right of the picture you can see a circular ladder leading up to a yellow half circle. That is the entrance to a very tame (but also surprisingly long) water slide.


Below is the pool where Maddie and Ada and I have spent most of our time. The water is comfortably warm and lots of kids play here because the water level allows them to easily stand (the water level in the deepest part goes up to Ada’s chin which means she has been happy not wearing her floaty so she can hold her nose and look under water with her goggles).


and here is the baby pool which Ada occasionally climbs into to go down the slide and play with the water features:


From the pool you can actually see the side of Ada and Maddie’s school (along with a field where lots of kids play soccer):


Because Maddie and Ada’s school is so close, they both will get to take swimming lessons here during their school day at some point during the year. The swimming pool has a fish tank as well which we enjoy looking at before we leave:


and here is how Ada has been getting home from the pool- sitting in the stroller on top of the pool bag with snack in hand.