Every country should be so lucky as to have Sweden’s problem: It doesn’t produce enough garbage.

As reported by Public Radio International, Sweden has a remarkably effective recycling program. Only 4 percent of the country’s waste ends up in landfills, with the other 96 percent being reused in some way. There is one problem with that, however: The country has incinerators that burn waste to create heat (a must-have in the region) and electricity. And too little waste means not enough fuel for those fires.

Sweden’s electricity production, in kilowatt-hours by population. Note that the country is increasingly using incinerated biofuels and waste (green line). (Data from Wikipedia.)

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Catarina Ostlund, Senior Advisor for the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, said the country is producing much less burnable waste than it needs. …

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However, they’ve recently found a solution.

Sweden has recently begun to import about eight hundred thousand tons of trash from the rest of Europe per year to use in its power plants. The majority of the imported waste comes from neighboring Norway because it’s more expensive to burn the trash there and cheaper for the Norwegians to simply export their waste to Sweden.

Norway gets rid of its solid waste, but it’s not exactly a great deal.

In the arrangement, Norway pays Sweden to take the waste off their hands and Sweden also gets electricity and heat. But dioxins in the ashes of the waste byproduct are a serious environmental pollutant. Ostlund explained that there are also heavy metals captured within the ash that need to be landfilled. Those ashes are then exported to Norway.

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For those wondering how efficient/polluting the waste incineration is, Sweden is happy to answer your questions, producing a slick brochure [PDF] that notes, among other things, that burning organic matter instead of putting it in landfills reduces methane production from decomposition.

And with that, I propose a new motto for the country. Sweden: They’ve got it figured out.™

Also, Sweden is pretty. (Photo by eGuide Travel.)