Saturday, March 11, 2006

Sweden Continues to Kick Ass!

Christine pointed this out to me this morning; a letter in the Ottawa Citizen (Thursday's edition) which seems to dispel myths about incinerators.

I admit that I was also of the belief that it might release crap (I don't believe that's the scientific term, but you know what I mean...) into the air. It's from Magnus Schonning, the press attache at the embassy of Sweden. Read on.

As a Swede who is concerned about the environment, it's rather interesting -- and somewhat sad -- to follow the current debate in Canada about waste management, landfills and waste incinerators.

In Canada, incineration plants are seen as hazardous to human health and the environment as a whole. In Sweden, the government has set national targets to reduce household waste going to landfills while promoting incineration as a safe way to take care of the waste and generate heat and electricity.

The amount of household waste in Sweden has fallen sharply and the share going to landfills is now less than 10 per cent of the total. Today, Sweden has 29 plants incinerating 47 per cent of all household waste and generating 9.3 terrawatt hours of energy, or about two per cent of our total energy supply.

How have our two countries come to such different positions on waste incineration? The answer may be that many Canadians base their opinions on outdated information.

For example, Councillor Peter Hume said, "Governments looked at incinerators as alternatives to landfills in the late 1980s, but they were rejected for environmental and health concerns due to toxic emissions.''

It's true that in the 1980s incinerators had problems with the emissions of toxic substances, especially highly toxic dioxins. However, in Sweden, modern technology has reduced these emissions drastically, with a 90- to 99-per-cent decrease in emissions of mercury, lead, cadmium and zinc during the years 1985 to 2004.

Sharon Labchuk, the Green Party's environment critic, expresses very legitimate concerns about dioxins. Unfortunately, she too is getting her facts from outdated sources.

Fifteen years ago, 18 Swedish waste-incineration plants emitted about 100 grams of dioxins per year. Today, dioxin emissions from all 29 Swedish waste-incineration plants amount to a total of 0.7 grams. Quite a significant improvement.

When one considers that uncontrolled fires in Swedish landfills (smaller in number and size than in Canada), emit between five and 30 grams of dioxins each year, with traffic and industrial processes adding another 20 to 55 grams each year, it surely must be better to burn household waste in a controlled setting with appropriate filters.

Magnus Schonning,

Press attache,
Embassy of Sweden

You know who else is from Sweden? Annicka.

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