Sweden: A Global Leader in Reducing “Matavfall” (Food Waste)

By Laurie Horning, Business Development Associate  //  September 26, 2014

* This post is part of an ongoing series, "Food Waste Around the Globe." To see all related posts, click here.

Sweden’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released a report on the environmental impact of food waste, or matavfall, as it’s called there. Among the report’s topics are food waste definitions, statistics (by industry), and explanations of what’s being done to combat the issue.

REPORT FINDINGS

The report, titled Food waste volumes in Sweden, analyzes volumes of food waste across six key sectors: agriculture and fishing, the food industry, supermarkets, restaurants, catering facilities, and households.

Households ranked as the most wasteful of these sectors, generating roughly 771,000 tonnes of food waste in 2012. 35 percent of waste was deemed unnecessary, meaning it would have been edible if it had been handled differently (i.e. properly stored, used before its expiration date, etc.).

TAKING ACTION

Spurred by the European Union’s waste management planning, Sweden decided to adopt stronger regulations in preventing and reducing organic waste. These efforts correlate with a number of the 16 objectives put forth by the Swedish Parliament and Swedish EPA.

To treat waste, Sweden uses four methods: material recycling, biological treatment, energy recovery, and landfill. For organic waste (e.g., food waste), biological treatment uses an anaerobic digestion or composting system to convert the waste into fertile soil. Alternatively, the energy recovery process takes the waste that cannot be recycled or made into soil and creates energy from it, using heat and electricity.

As of May 2011, 154 of the 290 Swedish municipalities responsible for collecting waste have developed a system for the collection of food waste with motives to use it for energy or biological treatment. Imagine if 55 percent of all municipalities in the United States had such a vision; there would be an increase in biofuel production and healthy soil.

Swedish Waste Management, Avfall Sverige, notes that in 2012, Sweden converted 673,180 tonnes of waste into soil. The report indicates that as of 2012, 15.3 percent of all waste generated by households is biologically treated. Instead of producing traditional fertilizer, which requires finite resources, the waste is turned into digestate, a type of fertilizer requiring no fossil fuels for its creation.

THINKING OUTSIDE THE BORDER

Sweden has also found ways to capitalize on food waste beyond their borders. In 2012, Sweden began importing waste from other countries, using it to make biogas. It’s expensive to burn waste in Norway, for instance, so the country sent its waste to Sweden, who used it to produce energy.

Within a year of accepting waste from outside sources, Sweden managed to collect 800,000 tons of waste from its neighbors. It’s not just waste they’re collecting, either—Sweden receives a waste-reducing fee from donors, making this venture environmentally and economically rewarding.

Sweden’s commitment to reducing food (and other) waste is a great example of a country taking initiative to combat this growing issue. Hopefully, others will follow suit and contribute to the global fight against food waste!

Topics: Food Waste Around the Globe