Oslo Is So Good At Recycling That It Has Run Out Of Rubbish

Norway's capital city has a serious waste management issue — they're way too good at it. Half of Oslo's 1.4 million residents rely on a steady stream of refuse to power their appliances and heat their homes. Problem is there just isn't enough rubbish to go around.

Burning municipal waste — everything from household rubbish and industrial scrap to toxic, hazmat and medical refuse — is big, big, business in Northern Europe. “Northern Europe has a huge generating capacity,” Pal Mikkelsen, head of Oslo's waste-to-energy agency, told the NYT, with more than 400 waste-to-energy plants currently operating in the region thanks to a multi-decade boom in plant construction. “There’s a European waste market — it’s a commodity,” Rooth Olbergsveen, senior adviser for Oslo’s waste recovery program, added. “It’s a growing market.” Unfortunately, this glut of capacity far outpaces the area's rate of rubbish production.

Overall, Northern Europe only produces about 150 million tons of burnable rubbish a year and yet they've built out their incineration capacity to support 700 million tons. The rubbish shortage has gotten so bad that municipalities have taken to not poaching disposal contracts from neighbouring counties but importing it from other countries — England alone exports some 1000 tons of rubbish annually. “I’d like to take some from the United States,” said Mikkelsen. “Sea transport is cheap.”

No matter how it gets to Oslo, the rubbish always ends up the same way: a pile of ash and a puff of flue gas. Incinerators burn municipal waste as a fuel source to produce heat, which boils a large amount of water into steam which then drives an electricity-generating turbine. This system is roughly 14 to 28 per cent electrically efficient but with cogeneration systems that recycle the process waste heat into hot water for homes and flue gas condensers which recycle the fumes for biogas (which powers some of Oslo's metro bus lines), overall system efficiency jumps to between 80 and 100 per cent. What's more, it reduces the garbage's mass by about 80 per cent and its volume by about 90 per cent, all while cooking contaminants and destroying toxins at high heat.

Unfortunately, there's no short term solution to Oslo's crippling rubbish shortage. Of course if city officials get really desperate, they can always check in with Naples, those guys are still digging out from the city's waste management crisis in 2011.

[NYT, Wikipedia, Wikipedia]

Pictures: Corepics VOF/Shutterstock, AP Images

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    Yes, well when the whole planet actually wakes up in their corporate owned V-reality pods and realises that you don't actually need a clamshell package that you need to open with a laser cutter. Or a cardboard box that's five times bigger than is necessary, they will stop using them and these guys won't have anything to burn for the right reasons...!! :)

      I don't think they are burning cardboard boxes...

        Sure they are, look at the pictures.

          That's a photo of Naples

            Click the link to the NY Times article mate..

    So why not just get in touch with India and all those other types of countries that are swimming in sh*t?

    i've just had a great idea for these guys...

    Maybe they should import rubbish from Italy, I hear Naples is drowning in the stuff. Italy loses a problem and the Norway gets power!

    I was in Oslo 4 weeks ago and can vouch for how clean that place is. It's absolutely spotless. Even the more frequented areas and tourist attractions like Frogner Park, are immaculate. Plus the people are awesome. Actually, after coming back from Oslo (via a week in London as well) has made me loathe this bloody country even more. Too young to be this cynical !

      I can vouch for being cynical at such a young age too! Spent 6 months in Sweden as a 16 year old on student exchange, and like Norway, the people were awesome and the place was cleaner than anywhere I've been to in Australia. It also showed how far back we lag against the rest of the world; ie. Public Transport, Internet, Trains and Cue Management Lol

    but... air pollution...?
    surely burning rubbish isnt good for the environment, even if it does get converted into energy...

      Go back and read the article again, flue gasses are trapped and condensed to make biofuel. 80-100% efficiency

    Well they should just sell their extra capacity to other cities in their region and make some simoleons.

    Wouldn't it be a good idea to just copy the good idea....who knows, it might snow ball ?

    Last edited 03/05/13 1:50 am

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