Saturday, March 21, 2009

Swedish communities using garbage for energy Part 1 - the green bags

One man’s trash really is another man’s treasure – One thing that has really impressed me about Swedish communities is how they deal with their trash. In one area of Sweden where we stayed, we noticed that in addition to separating items for recycling, there were also red and green plastic waste bags in all of the homes. In the green bags you were to put organic material, and in the red bags should contain any waste that can burn that wouldn’t be recycled. Larger items or non-burnable items are taken to a separate waste facility in town, and recyclable materials are dropped off at recycling centers usually located in grocery store parking lots.

So what actually happens to the red and green bags? We were lucky enough to find out!!

The green bags
We visited Ragn-Sells Heljestorp AB, aka “the green bag plant” in Vänersborg. The plant has been running for 9 years, and with 2,000 trucks, it is the largest waste handling company in Sweden. At the plant, the red and green bags are separated, and the matter from the green bags is converted into biogas (in compress air form) that is used to fuel automobiles. The red bags are transported to other facilities to be burned for energy (we also visited a “red bag” plant, which I’ll talk about later. Many Swedish communities burn waste for energy but Ragn-Sells Heljestrop AB is the only one that is producing biogas from their waste in this particular way. The plant’s employees and trucks even use the biogas to fuel their own vehicles! The biogas can be used in most cars that run on natural gas. Many local cities use biogas for their buses as well. In Sweden there is no tax on cars if they run on biogas (including tolls, registration fees, etc.).

Sorting the green and the red bags
The plant receives on average 70,000 total bags a day – 25,000 of which are green bags. Each green bag creates enough biogas to drive a car for 2.5 km, and last year the plant produced as much biogas as the petrol equivalent of 1.2 million liters. In addition to the biogas, the plant also creates a liquid fertilizer that is certified by the EU to be eco-friendly.

The bags arrive to the plant to be sorted
In order to implement this program successfully, a lot of education to the public was needed. A giant booklet for every home in the area, television information, and demonstrations helped explain what needed to go in the red and green bags. Ten years ago, the program began with175 users; now 200,000 people participate. About 90% of the time, the products in the green bags, which carry the organic material (“anything that you put in your mouth” as they say) are correctly separated.
The bags are ripped open to uncover their contents and feed them into the biogas converter.
One thing I really found interesting is that in Sweden, product manufacturers are responsible for what happens to their packaging. This has created an incentive in the country to use packaging that can be recycled or burned.

Stay tuned for information about the “red bag plant”.


Anonymous said...

It is nice to see green building products being used nationally and worldwide, and also the demand for such materials has risen dramatically. We should all be thinking of our planet Earth in any way we can. Just look at the auto industries, bucket trucks, boom trucks, and even crane trucks are going green.

crane trucks said...

we all need to do our part to save the planet