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!


Only in Norway, part 2

Here are a couple more Only in Norway sightings:

This one isn’t really a mystery—I just thought it was pretty awesome. Who wouldn’t want a climate-controlled dog kennel just outside the food hall so you can leave your dog in comfort while you go in to purchase some fisksuppe.

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This one is a complete mystery to me. I’ve seen a number of these things at my daughters’ school, and on the campus of UiO. At first I thought they were some sort of pavement warmer, but there aren’t nearly enough of them around.

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If you’ve got any idea what this is, please share your thoughts in the comments.

A tribute to the the public transportation system of my dreams

When I was a kid, one of my favorite toys was my Brio train set. I could play with those trains for hours, and always dreamed of having the the giant set—the subway, and the ferry, and the tram and the train.

Now that I’ve moved to Oslo, I think I’ve found the Brio set of my dreams here in the Ruter transportation network for metropolitan Oslo and beyond. Since Brio is based in Sweden, I honestly think maybe they’ve just been taking some ideas for the next elements of their train sets from their Norwegian Neighbors.

Let me try to explain just how amazing the Oslo Transportation system is.

First, the Ruter network consists of the T-bane, a subway network of 100 stations with 5 lines covering more than 80 km. It also includes a similarly large network of tram lines in central Oslo and the suburbs, a network of Ferries that reach out islands in the Oslo Fjord, a massive bus network, and the regional train network, NSB.

The entire network is divided into zones, and your price varies depending on which zones you are traveling in. This map is massive—we live about 10 km outside Oslo and are still well within zone 1, which includes all of the subway and tram networks. The airport is about an hour away from central Oslo and near the beginning of zone 4N.

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There are no turnstiles in this subway network, and the only people that use paper tickets are tourists. Once you get a Norwegian ID, you can buy all your tickets electronically on an app on your phone. For about $900, you can buy a year pass, that gives you unlimited rides within zone 1. If you want to ride outside of zone 1, you can buy an extension ticket for a few bucks, again on your phone. Kids under 4 are free, and all children are free on the weekends. The entire system works wonderfully on the honor system. You simply walk onto the train. The only time you ever need to show your ticket is when you get on the bus, and the honor system is enforced by occasional “ticket inspections” and if you are caught without a ticket, you have to pay a $120 fine. This system works beautifully.

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All of the forms of transportation adhere to precise schedules available in the app and on Google maps, and making the most complicated train-tram—bus connections quite simple. If there is ever a delay that causes you to be more than 20 minutes late, Ruter even promises to cover your taxi fare.

Truly, it’s wonderful, and it’s made me realize I don’t miss having a car at all, which is a good thing, since getting a drivers license in Norway is an ordeal I think I’m going to avoid putting myself and my wallet through.

It’s wonderful to know that even though we don’t have a car, virtually all of Oslo and its surroundings are open to us. That, and the wonders of subway cars designed by Porsche, would be enough to make public transportation one of the best things about Norway, but then the thing that really put it over top was this recent ad campaign by Ruter:

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These advertisements feature portraits of immigrants new to Oslo from all over the world, and almost put a knot in my throat—maybe because I’m realizing how easy it would be to feel excluded in a foreign country when you don’t know the language, and how grateful I am every day that I rarely have that feeling here. Or maybe it’s because every day my home country seems to be finding another way to make live even more difficult for immigrants. Either way, I’m grateful for the transportation network that does more than just gets you from point A to B with a awesome app, it makes everyone feel welcome in the process.

Hiking to Kolsås

This past Monday, Diana and I went on another date where hiked to the wetop of Kolsåstoppen, a beautiful mountain about 15 minutes away from our house by bus, which gave us beautiful views of all of Bærum (our commune/county), and Oslo.

Here are some photos from our trip:

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We thought it was neat that this hike (or at least the sign) is sponsored by Kvikk Lunch, the Norwegian Kit Kat.
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This was also our first chance to test our the hiking poles I got for a Christmas present—they make such a difference, but I also felt deeply inadequate as 70 year old Norwegians in tennis shoes just seemed to dance by us in the steeper sections of the hike.
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Our apartment is generally in this direction. You can see the Oslofjord in the background, too.
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Here’s a beautiful mountain lake we came to on the hike. It’s hard to tell from the photos, but the water was crystal clear.
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Another view of the lake, with Nodre Kolsas in the background.
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Closer to the top of of Søndre Kolsas.
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Our view for lunch.
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A Hytta along on the trip back. This one serves waffles on Sundays. Too bad we were climbing on a Monday.
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A really cool mushroom we saw along the trail.
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There were a number of electric fence crossings near the end of the trail, but at each point, with these little step ladders to help facilitate the crossing.

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And today, our DNT cabin key arrived. I’m still pretty amazed that if you pay about 100 kroner, the DNT will send you a key that will open any of the hundreds of cabins all across Norway, and trust you to just leave money for any food you eat (in the cabins that are stocked with food) or to pay when you spend the night.

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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!



tilfeldig utvalg for August

Here’s a tilefelding utvaly (random assortment) of photos from August that I didn’t get to blog about in detail.

Another awesome playground we found at Ekbergparken
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This park was recently made famous in the NYT, when the 52 Places Traveler (Keep Oslo Weird) went to the same sculpture park and mentioned this sculpture, Fideicommissium, of a woman squatting and peeing off in the woods.
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We saw the Viking shop museum. Ada was not impressed.
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A pretty decent photo of all of us and the Gilheanys on the roof deck of our apartment, minus Ada hiding off camera.
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Some of the seats in the buses have 4 point harnesses for little kids and the bottom of the seat folds down so that a little kid can sit there. Ada loved it, and wants every seat on the bus to be like this.

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Hanging out at the Royal Palace. I found the tour to be super interesting. The modern Norwegian Monarchy is only about 100 years old, and the people voted to create a constitutional monarchy. It is the official residence of the king and queen, and he meets with the leaders of the government every Friday in an amazing conference room. IMG 0972

A pretty cool culture festival we went to at the harbor.
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A couple of extra outtakes from Maddie’s first day of school:
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Maddie’s classroom. That’s her teacher, Ms. Willums on the far left.
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Ada at her school playground.

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The fountain just outside our apartment that the girls stop to play in on the way to and from school.
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Ada all dressed up in her rain suit.
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Looking back, all of these photos seem like they were taken so long ago. Time is flying by, and I need to learn more Norwegian.