Swedish packaging recycling "inefficient"

Report for finance ministry blasts focus on higher targets, calls for incineration and landfill

Sweden's waste packaging recycling policy is "exceedingly inefficient" and should be replaced by policies encouraging more incineration and landfilling of waste, according to a new report for the Swedish finance ministry.

According to author Marian Radetzky of Luleå university and Stockholm-based think-tank SNS, the cost to Swedish society of reaching the high recycling levels aimed at for packaging waste are as much as 20 times greater than the environmental benefit achieved. His report concludes that incineration and landfilling should be increased in place of recycling.

The main reason for the imbalance, it says, is a failure to undertaken any cost-benefit analysis of increased recycling compared to other waste management options. In particular, the report finds, the policies have been structured to "impose a huge burden" on households, which have to clean, sort and transport waste to collection points. The study assumes a cost to households of SKr60 per hour (euros 7) for this service and quantifies environmental damage caused by each waste treatment method.

It concludes that recycling packaging waste costs Swedish society just over SKr34,000 per tonne, while incineration costs SKr1,842 and landfilling SKr1,840. Virtually all the estimated costs to society of the recycling option are due to the costing of householders' time taken in cleaning, sorting and transporting waste. Comparing the three options in purely environmental terms, recycling actually emerges as the most preferable one.

The results of the study contradict an environment ministry review of recycling policies published last year, which concluded that recycling of packaging should be increased (ENDS Daily 10 December 1998). They also run counter to the EU's current approach on recycling, which is to progressively increase rates.

Follow Up:
SNS, tel: +46 8 50 70 25 00. References: "The Political Economy of Recycling: the case of Sweden". An English translation of the study will be published by Multiscience in January. Fax: +44 1277 223 453.

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