Saturday, March 21, 2009

Swedish communities using garbage for energy Part 2 - the red bags

Previously I posted about the green bag plant. The story of the red bags is also interesting.

The red bags
The newly constructed Uddevalla Energi plant

We visited the Uddevalla Energi plant in Uddevalla, Sweden, where some of the red bags are sent to. The red bags theoretically contain items that are not organic, hazardous, electronic, recyclable, and that can be burned. Some acceptable examples of items might include diapers, clothing, and textiles. This actually includes some plastics, and the bags themselves are also burned.
The giant claw that feeds waste into the furnace. The furnace runs 24 hours a day.
Uddevalla was one of the first communities in Sweden to begin using district heating systems. The system was installed in 1965 and since 1985, when the biomass energy plant was built, using renewable energy has been part of Uddevalla’s heating system. The new waste incineration plant opened in August 2008 and is used in conjunction with the biomass plant to supply almost 100% of the city’s heat as well as provide electricity to the main grid. Fifty percent of electricity from the plant is used in Uddevalla and the other half is used in Trollhättan, a neighboring community. Employee vehicles and collection trucks run on biogas, and the electricity from the plant is used to power the plant and its facilities.

Forget that you might think trash is dirty - this waste burning facility was very clean!

While the plant was very clean, the burning of trash itself is a dirty process, and the Uddevalla Energi plant has state-of-the-art facilities to ensure clean air and clean water are produced from the process. The system itself loses very little energy by collecting and recycling steam and using it for both heat in the plant and to the district heating system. Slag produced at the plant is used in road construction. In fact, the only actually by-product from this plant is a type of sludge, and leave it to the Swedes to even find a use for that! The sludge is sent to an island in Norway that was once mined for gypsum and now needs to be recovered for environmental reasons. The sludge, when mixed with a certain Norwegian paint waste, creates the perfect pH to help restore this island back to more normal conditions.

An interesting trash fact – Sweden’s economy has been declining, which means that people are producing less trash. In order to keep up with the demand for energy, some waste burning facilities in Sweden have been importing trash from other countries.

One more interesting trash fact – Many Swedes are adamant about disposing of their old and unused medicine properly. Many pharmacies provide medicine recycling bags so that chemicals don’t end up in the soil or water supply. The bags can be returned to the pharmacy, who will dispose of them properly. These recycling programs exist for some pharmacies in the US but many people don’t know about them or use them, so if you don’t know, be sure to ask.


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