Swedes debate merits of paper recycling

Norwegian study on environmental costs of recycling sparks debate in Sweden

A report from Norway's national statistical office questioning the environmental benefits of consumers recycling their waste paper has fuelled a heated debate in neighbouring Sweden. Newspapers report that the debate is causing public confusion in Sweden, where the recycling rate is one of the highest in Europe.

The Norwegian report considers the costs and benefits of paper recycling in Norway. One of its conclusions - that air pollution from vehicles involved in collecting and transporting paper waste is six times higher than the pollution produced by traditional garbage collection - lies at the heart of the debate in Sweden. The conclusions were supported by a recent report from the County Government Board of Norrbotten in northern Sweden.

Power companies in Sweden, who have been lobbying for more waste paper to come their way as a cheap alternative source of fuel, have welcomed the reports. Owners of small power plants in sparsely populated northern Sweden have argued that it would be more environmentally friendly for householders there to supply waste paper to them - instead of recycling - to prevent them having to drive to southern Sweden to collect waste.

Sweden's forestry industry, on the other hand is keen to continue using recycled paper as a comparatively cheap feedstock for paper products. The Swedish Forest Industries Association recently hosted a press conference attended by representatives of many sectors, including power plants, governments, and NGOs to debate the recent findings.

Representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Swedish Ecocycle Commission have publicly questioned the findings of the two reports. "Neither of [them] compares the environmental benefits of using recycled paper waste in the paper processing industry to the continuous use of new timber", according to Siv Näslund of the Ecocycle Commission. The EPA is expected to produce its own report on the environmental impacts of paper recycling this autumn.

Recycling of paper in Sweden has reached record levels. Last year the Swedish public recycled 61% of post consumer waste or 1.3 million tonnes of paper including newspapers, magazines and cardboard. This compares with an average of 52% recycling rate in Europe and 45% internationally.

Follow Up:
Statistics Norway, tel: +47 22 864 500.

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