Umeå Energi is part of a collaboration with other district heating companies that want to work for responsible waste management. The aim is, among other things, to change the legislation so that rogue operators do not have the opportunity to dump waste instead of taking care of it.
"This is a very important issue, which will grow year on year. Especially in southern Sweden, there are major problems with dumped waste, but it creeps north," says Mårten Henriksson, Area Manager Infrastructure at Umeå Energi.
In the world, we are becoming more and more people consuming more and more. It creates large amounts of waste, which are not always taken care of properly. In Sweden, we have been a world-leading nation for decades, knowing how to create energy from waste – climate-smart and resource efficient. But here, too, there are major problems with rogue operators who, at a low price, receive waste and then dump it in a field.
"According to the legislation, you are allowed to temporarily store waste on surfaces for three years. The amount you are allowed to store amounts to 10,000 tons. There is a lot of waste and these rogue actors can get paid well for it – and then they do not take responsibility but leave it lying," says Mårten Henriksson and continues:
"Swedish legislation is a bit tricky, so it is easy for cases to fall between the chairs between different authorities. We are several district heating companies that have joined forces to show that there are sensible actors who take responsibility – and to change the legislation.
The collaboration is called 2 MEND-IX and consists of Umeå Energi, Söderenergi, Mälarenergi and Tekniska verken. Work began three years ago.
"Ideally, you want all waste to be reused, everything should really be able to get a new life. But with much of the waste today, there is nothing to do in the end but burn it. And we do district heating companies in a good way. We take advantage of the energy that is in the waste in our controlled plants," says Mårten Henriksson.
The waste is sent into ovens at 700 degrees, providing thermal and complete combustion. In the smoke ducts that transport away the smoke, there is advanced purification that removes chemicals and heavy metals, for example.
"We clean the entire system and that's what our customers pay us for. In Umeå alone, almost 50,000 tonnes of waste are produced every year. We have to deal with that waste – and I don't think umeå residents want it to end up in a field or in the sea," says Mårten Henriksson.
Waste will increase by 70 percent
He is convinced that the waste issue will grow in the coming years and not only in Sweden but globally. More and more countries in the world are getting a better economy, which means that the need for goods increases – which in turn creates more waste.
"It is said that the amount of waste will increase by 70% by 2050 in the world, and it will be taken care of. We must be able to do so in a circular way. Only now during the pandemic have we seen an increase in the amount of waste, which is due to an increase in online shopping. The proportion of packaging and shipping parts has grown enormously," says Mårten Henriksson.
He mentions that Umeå Energi often finds heavy metals and chemical substances in its ashes from district heating plants, which should not be allowed in Europe.
"Many people order goods from Asia today, for example from China, and substances that Europe banned a long time ago are still allowed there. For example, they are still allowed to have heavy metals in plastics. If the waste is dumped in nature instead of being burned and purified, most people will understand that the hazardous substances leak into the forest and soil," says Mårten Henriksson.
Working out a verifiable
2 MEND-IX has great ambitions and hopes to show organizations as well as government agencies and legislators how important the issue is. Among other things, a verification is currently being developed, which will show the customer that the actor is serious.
"The verifiable document should inspire confidence and create transparency and traceability. The customer should be able to track back what we have done with the waste. This is one of the things that we have accomplished together in 2 MEND-IX," says Mårten Henriksson.
On Friday 5 March, a debate article, authored by the representatives of all actors within 2 MEND-IX, was published on DN Debatt. Read the debate article here.